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9 Early Warning Signs And Symptoms

A neat thing about having COPD is it communicates with you. It lets you know when something is wrong, or when a flare-up is impending. It communicates by presenting you with early warning signs and symptoms.

Early warning signs & symptoms of COPD

A sign is something you or anyone around you can observe. A symptom is something only you can feel. Here are 9 early warning signs & symptoms of COPD.

1. Increased shortness of breath.

A classic early warning symptom is feeling short of breath. Or, it’s feeling more short of breath than what is normal for you.

2. Coughing more than usual.

You may cough some on a regular basis every day. Coughing more than this usual amount is a classic early warning sign.

3. Chest tightness.

So, your chest feels sore. Or, you feel chest tightness. Of course, this may occur because of sore chest muscles due to coughing. It may also be due to changes occurring inside your chest.

4. Feeling anxious.

And I suppose I ought to add “feeling more anxious than what is normal for you.” By anxious, I’m referring to constant worrying. You may be thinking things like, “Am I really short of breath, or do I just think I am.” Or, “Should I seek help? Or can I handle it on my own.” “Should I call my doctor?” “Oh, I don’t know what to do?” If you’re thinking these or similar thoughts, chances are it’s time to seek help.

5. Fluid retention.

Retaining fluid is another sign worth noting. It’s a sign that changes are occurring inside your body that might cause a flare-up. You can observe it by noting a sudden weight gain. It can also be observed by new or worsening feet or ankle edema.

6. Trouble sleeping.

There are many reasons why people with COPD may start to have trouble sleeping. This could be due to changes inside your chest, causing you to feel short of breath while lying down. This could be due to declining oxygen levels. It could be due to coughing or anxiety. It could also be due to side effects to all the medicine you are taking.

7. Feeling cold symptoms.

Respiratory viruses are very common COPD triggers. They could be the cause of changes occurring inside your chest. Colds usually start out mild and progress over time. They can cause flare-ups. They can even cause severe flare-ups. Healthy people can tough colds out. People with COPD might be best served to heed the sniffling and sneezing as early warning signs. And to heed the scratchy throat and itchy nose as early warning symptoms.

8. Sputum changes colors.

The normal color of sputum is clear. Asthmatics tend to have white sputum. For many people with COPD it’s yellow. When you cough it up, you should pay attention to your sputum color, even on good COPD days. You should know what’s normal for you. This way, when it changes colors, you’ll know that something has changed. Brown, green, and red are definitely abnormal. So, changes to your sputum color can definitely be an early sign that something is wrong.

9. Feeling you need rescue medicine more than usual.

Many people with COPD have prescriptions for rescue medicine, like albuterol. If you’re using this medicine more than normal, this is a classic early warning sign.

Every person with COPD has unique symptoms

Each person experiences early warning signs and symptoms that are unique. Does your chin itch? Do you get a headache? Do you experience allergy symptoms? What signs and symptoms are unique to you?

You can work with your doctor to learn your early warning signs and symptoms. When observed, actions you take right now can prevent an impending flare-up. Your doctor can also help you create an Action Plan for helping you decide what actions to take, such as when to seek help.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Mendo Bruce
    2 years ago

    My early warning signs include:

    1.Heart rate higher than normal with minimal exertion (or at rest),

    2. O2 saturation dropping lower than normal with exertion

    3. Lower than normal mental acuity.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Mendo Bruce and thanks for putting up what you find your early warning signs to be. It sounds like you have a good understanding of your own COPD and how to gauge your symptoms. Keep up the good work!
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • lynn2u
    2 years ago

    I get too weak and shaky, and get tachycardia when I take abuterol. That is too weak and shaky and tired to exercise. Are there other brochiodilators that don’t have these side effects? i am working out 4 to 5 days a week, and that is helping me keep my pulse oxygen up during ADLS. I do not take any medication except oxygen at a setting of 1 for ADLS and 2 to 3 for a work out on the treadmill or UBE. Help anyone

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Lynn – we appreciate your inquiry. As you may be aware, there are many bronchodilators available on the market today. The side effects that you are experiencing can be side effects for all of them. Some people are affected by them, some are not. It’s a very individual reaction. As well, you may try a different bronchodilator and not have the reaction you’re having now to albuterol.
    I would suggest you take this up with your private health care provider and see what might be recommended for your situation. I thought you also might find it helpful to look over this article on that very subject:
    Please do check back and let us know how you’re doing.
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

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