Key Symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

difficulty breathing

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  • One of the earliest signs of COPD is long-term coughing, and the increased production of mucus or phlegm
  • To begin diagnosing for COPD, your doctor will start examining any current signs or symptoms you have related to the disease. Important details you need to mention include history of smoking, exposure to lung irritants, air pollution or dust

Early stages of COPD may not produce any symptoms because the lungs are not extensively damaged yet.1 As the disease progresses, however, certain indicators may arise. If you experience any of the following, visit your doctor immediately:2

  • Ongoing Cough: One of the earliest signs of COPD is long-term coughing. This is usually done to help eject foreign matter that does not belong on your lungs and windpipe,3 such as irritants inhaled from cigarette smoke. It also helps remove any phlegm that accumulates in the airways. While coughing every now and again is normal, a prolonged episode usually indicates a problem in the lungs.
  • Increased Mucus: Another symptom that accompanies  chronic coughing is the increased production of mucus or phlegm. Your body does this as a reaction to help trap and eventually eject foreign irritants from  your lungs. The inhalation of tobacco smoke and other chemicals usually increases the production of mucus.
  • Shortness of Breath (Breathlessness): This symptom generally occurs when your lungs take more effort to move air in and out of your body. Initially, this symptom may appear during times of physical activity, such as playing sports. Eventually, it may worsen and affect your daily life.
  • Fatigue: As COPD progresses, you may eventually find yourself getting tired more easily than before. Aside from this, loss of energy or stamina may happen.

Other Common Symptoms Associated With COPD

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are many other symptoms that may appear as a result of COPD. Be on the lookout for the following:4

Wheezing

Chest tightness

Having to clear your throat first thing in the morning

Frequent respiratory infections

Blueness of the lips or fingernail beds

Unintended weight loss

Swelling in ankles, feet or legs

How to Diagnose the Symptoms of COPD

To begin diagnosing for COPD, your doctor will start examining any current signs or symptoms you have related to the disease. Next, your medical and family history will be reviewed. Important details you need to mention include history of smoking, exposure to lung irritants, air pollution or dust. Afterwards, other tests will be conducted to ensure accuracy of the diagnosis:5

  • Spirometry: In spirometry, you will be asked to deeply inhale and then exhale as hard as you can into a tube connected to a  spirometer. This device measures how much and  how fast you can breathe out air to determine the overall condition of your lungs.
  • Chest X-Ray: A chest x-ray or other similar imaging tests may help identify potential problems inside your lungs. The results may indicate COPD or a different disease depending on your doctor’s judgement.
  • Arterial Blood Gas Test: This method measures the oxygen levels in your blood using a sample taken from an artery. This may help reveal how severe your COPD is and whether or not you need oxygen therapy.
  • Phlegm Sample: Your doctor may take a small phlegm sample to rule out signs of a possible chest infection that may be causing your symptoms.

MORE ABOUT COPD

COPD: An Introduction

What Is COPD?

COPD Symptoms

COPD Causes

COPD Stages

Types of COPD

COPD Treatment

COPD Life Expectancy

COPD Prevention

COPD Diet

COPD FAQ

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