Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease - Symptoms

The symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can vary greatly from patient to patient. What were your symptoms at the onset of your disease?

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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.
Return to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

See what others are saying

Comment from: Busybee33, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: October 24

For the past 20 years I had been taking allergy shots and they had helped to keep my lungs clear, but after moving across country and being tested by two separate allergists who said I didn't have allergies, but chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) my allergy shots stopped. One and a half years ago I started sweating profusely, worse than during menopause. Water literally dripped off my face. Gradually it started to disappear. The less the sweating became, the more I became breathless until I was gasping for air walking across a room. My lungs started to fill up with mucus which eventually turned into pneumonia.

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Comment from: oakie, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: December 16

I was told I had emphysema in 1987 when I was 45 years old. I smoked for 30 years, but quit smoking as soon as I was told that I had COPD. Quitting smoking was the hardest thing I ever did. But I knew I would die if I didn't. My health was getting so bad that I needed oxygen 24/7 and was down to 92lbs. Thankfully, in 1999 I got lung volume reduction surgery. It saved my life. I no longer needed oxygen and was able to climb stairs, dance, and travel the world. That good fortune lasted for almost 13 years. I am now back on oxygen 24/7 and can't climb stairs, dance or travel the world. But I do go to the gym 4 days a week and workout with weights and treadmill. I was told when I got my surgery that exercise would keep me out of the hospital and they were right. Don't know how long I have but I will go down fighting every inch of the way.

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