coughing woman

8 Common COPD Symptoms

As many of you know, COPD is an extremely complex disease. Whether newly diagnosed, or extremely experienced, it's important to be aware of the common symptoms. Below are the ones noted in the 2017 GOLD COPD guidelines.

The most common COPD symptoms

1. Dyspnea

This is the scientific term for shortness of breath. It describes the feeling that you can’t catch your breath. There are different levels of shortness of breath, from mild to moderate to severe. Some people can become more short of breath over a long period of time. They may not even notice it until a flare-up occurs. Some people with COPD experience some degree of dyspnea every day. Others do not experience it except during flare-ups. Sometimes it only occurs with exertion. A few might not experience it at all. Sometimes, when it’s very mild, it may be brushed off as normal, or as “due to aging.” So, it’s not normal. If you experience it, you should talk to your doctor.

2. Chronic cough

This is one of the first signs of COPD. You may cough sometimes. But, as the disease progresses, it may turn into a cough that seems to always be there. It’s often brushed off as “smoker’s cough.” It’s often brushed off as normal. It’s not normal. Again, if you observe this, talk to your doctor.

3. Sputum production

Not all people with COPD produce sputum. But, it is not uncommon either. A normal color for sputum is clear. COPD sputum tends to have a yellow tint to it. Sputum that is colorful may indicate a lower respiratory infection, such as pneumonia. Pneumonia tends to produce sputum that is colorful, such as brown, green, or red. Talk to your doctor if you observe a change in the color of your sputum.

4. Wheezing

COPD airways may become abnormally narrow. This may be due to airway inflammation. It may also be due to sputum. Another term for narrowed airways is obstructed airways. When air travels past an obstruction it may produce a wheezing sound. But, it’s also important to note that some people with COPD do not wheeze. So, lack of a wheeze should not be used to rule out COPD.

5. Chest tightness

Airway inflammation can irritate nerve cells lining your airways. This can cause a tickling sensation in your chest. It may make your chest feel tight. Sometimes, during flare-ups, your chest and shoulder muscles work hard when you breathe. This can cause these muscles to become sore. This is similar to what might happen after a hard workout.

6. Fatigue

COPD can sometimes make you feel like you lack energy. You may feel like you aren’t able to keep up with your daily activities. You may feel unable to do activities at the pace you’re used to. You may need time to recover after exertion. You may find you need to pace yourself to make it through a typical day. This can help you preserve energy and reduce fatigue. 

7. Ankle and feet swelling

As COPD progresses, it may cause ankle or feet swelling in some people. Some swelling may be present every day. It may be new, or get worse, during flare-ups. This is why your doctor may monitor your ankles and feet for swelling. He or she may prescribe medicine to help reduce this swelling. New or worsening ankle or foot swelling can be an early sign of a COPD flare-up, a sign that you need to seek medical attention.

8. Anxiety/ Depression  

About 18-35% of COPDers experience anxiety. Up to 40% of COPDers experience depression. This is when you worry or feel sad. These are symptoms that are real, although often go undiagnosed and undertreated. So, it’s important to tell your doctor when you feel them. Your doctor should also expect this. They may screen you to make it easier to diagnose you. Proper diagnoses can help you get proper treatment, which can help you feel better all the way around.

Observing your symptoms

Not all COPDers experience all of these symptoms. But these are the most common ones experienced. Plus, experiencing them does not mean you have COPD. Still, if you observe any of these, you should talk to your doctor. He or she may want to take steps to properly diagnose you. This way you can get the treatment you deserve so you can feel better

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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.

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