When you breathe, air travels through tubes in your lungs—called airways—to millions of tiny air sacs. In a healthy lung, the airways are open and the air sacs fill up with air. Then the air goes quickly out.
COPD makes it hard to get air through the airways and into and out of the air sacs.
Common COPD signs and Symptoms
Some signs and symptoms of COPD include cough with mucus, shortness of breath, and fatigue. When these signs first occur, people often mistakenly attribute them to aging, being out of shape, or “smoker’s cough.” They may limit their level of activity to accommodate these COPD symptoms without even realizing it. There are also instances when it’s hard for doctors to be sure whether a patient has COPD or asthma. These are just a few reasons why it’s important to really understand the symptoms of COPD.
Since COPD is a progressive disease, many signs and symptoms may be mild at first and become more severe over time. Signs and symptoms of COPD may vary and include:
- Shortness of breath or “dyspnea”: when you breathe harder but feel like you’re running out of air
- Persistent (chronic) cough
- Coughing up mucus/phlegm
- Difficult or labored breathing during physical activity or while resting
- Wheezing (air trying to flow through a narrow airway)
- Higher frequency of pneumonia and lung infections
Other signs and symptoms that could be associated with COPD:
- Weight loss
- Morning headaches (breathing decreases during sleep, which means less oxygen comes in and more carbon dioxide builds up in the blood, which may cause headaches)
At times, any or all of the respiratory related symptoms may suddenly “flare up” or get worse than usual. These episodes of more severe symptoms are known as exacerbations, and they should be taken seriously.
Make sure to talk with your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing any of the COPD symptoms listed above.
Keep in mind, COPD symptoms aren’t just something you wake up with one morning. They develop slowly. The lung is fairly resilient and can sustain a considerable amount of damage before it starts producing any symptoms. By the time most people are diagnosed, they may have already lost some of their lung function. Certain COPD symptoms, like fatigue and shortness of breath affect each individual differently. That’s why it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider if you notice a change in any of the symptoms listed above.
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