Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) (cont.)

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What are the symptoms of COPD?

COPD symptoms from smoking

  • Typically, after smoking 20 or more cigarettes a day for more than twenty years, patients with COPD develop a chronic cough, shortness of breath (dyspnea), and frequent respiratory infections.

Emphysema symptoms of COPD

  • In patients affected predominantly by emphysema, shortness of breath may be the major symptom. Dyspnea usually is most noticeable during increased physical activity, but as emphysema progresses, dyspnea occurs at rest.

Chronic bronchitis and bronchiectasis symptoms of COPD

  • In patients with chronic bronchitis as well as bronchiectasis, chronic cough and sputum production are the major symptoms. The sputum is usually clear and thick. Periodic chest infections can cause fever, dyspnea, coughing, production of purulent (cloudy and discolored) sputum and wheezing. (Wheezing is a high pitched noise produced in the lungs during exhalation when mucous, bronchospasm, or loss of lung elasticity obstructs airways.) Infections occur more frequently as bronchitis and bronchiectasis progress.

Advanced COPD symptoms

  • In advanced COPD, patients may develop cyanosis (bluish discoloration of the lips and nail beds) due to a lack of oxygen in blood.
  • They also may develop morning headaches due to an inability to remove carbon dioxide from the blood.
  • Weight loss occurs in some patients, primarily (another possibility is reduced intake of food) because of the additional energy that is required to breathe.
  • In advanced COPD, small blood vessels in the lungs are destroyed, and this blocks the flow of blood through the lungs. As a result, the heart must pump with increased force and pressure to get blood to flow through the lungs. (The elevated pressure in the blood vessels of the lungs is called pulmonary hypertension.) If the heart cannot manage the additional work, right heart failure also known as Cor pulmonale results and leads to swelling of the feet and ankles.
  • Patients with COPD may cough up blood (hemoptysis). Usually hemoptysis is due to damage to the inner lining of the airways and the airways' blood vessels; however, occasionally, hemoptysis may signal the development of lung cancer.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/13/2013

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