lungs in one circle attached to five circles showing bladder leakage, chocking, rib pain, sweating, and dry skin

Community Feedback: Strange Symptoms of COPD

Last updated: September 2019

COPD is not a one-size-fits-all diagnosis. It’s a complicated disease that affects everyone in slightly different ways, starting with the fact that some of you with COPD are triggered in summer’s hot temperatures and others have a hard time with the cold air of winter.

To hear more about how your COPD affects the community, we wanted to start a conversation on the Facebook page. We asked you all to fill in the blank: “My strangest COPD symptoms are: _____.”

The response was overwhelming. More than 300 of you were part of the conversation, sharing about what irks and pains you the most about your COPD. And the answers varied wildly—from choking problems to sweating problems.

Here’s what you had to say about the strange ways COPD affects you:

Issues with incontinence

“My bladder leakage problem.”

More than a few members shared that they have issues with incontinence—which is incredibly common among those with COPD, even though it’s not often talked about. Bladder leakage can be a side effect following breathing struggles. The body perceived that it is in danger, and sends blood to the lungs, thus depleting the bladder of much-needed oxygen, and then that system has a failure. This can be one of the symptoms that can be most difficult to talk about, so we are grateful that so many members shared openly—you are not alone.

“When I can’t breathe, and I’m afraid of wetting myself before I get to the bathroom!! I know it’s loss of oxygen!”

“When I am struggling to breathe, my bladder starts leaking.”

“Coughing and breathing and my bladder leakage problem.”

“I dislike the bladder issue.”

Risk of choking with COPD

“I often choke on my food.”

Another unfortunate side effect of COPD is a higher risk of choking. There is definitely a link between the two issues—for those of you who were asking. The good news is that it seems many of you are learning how to live with it, from taking smaller bites to avoiding certain foods.

“I don’t know if it’s because of my COPD, but I often choke on my food when eating. So I have to eat more slowly.”

“I also have to cut my food in smaller pieces and not talk until I’ve swallowed. French fries are dangerous! I first started noticing it was easier to choke when I was in the hospital last March with a bad flare-up. I even mentioned it to my doctor that my throat felt closed off a bit and I was afraid to eat. It doesn’t feel closed off anymore… but I’m definitely more careful.”

Dry skin that comes with COPD

“Thin, very dry skin.”

Several of you mentioned dry, thin skin everywhere from the bottom of your feet to your arms. The latest findings can’t say for certain what the cause is, but some suggest that low-grade inflammation of COPD is responsible for skin conditions. Besides the obvious solution of using lotion, one possible answer is to seek out ways to decrease inflammation in the body, from limiting the intake of certain foods, such as sugar and wheat, to increasing foods, such as turmeric, that are known to fight inflammation.

“Dry flaky skin.”

“Thin, very dry skin.”

“The strangest symptoms are saggy and dry skin.”

Rib cramps is something that is often talked about in the community

“The so-called ‘rib cramps.’”

This symptom is so common that the editorial team at ran an article explaining the possible causes, including a reduction in strength of the skeletal muscles as a result of the condition. Other possible causes include side effects of medication. Many in the community have written in about rib cramps, even sharing that doctors often don’t know the cause. Regardless of what is responsible for the pain, one thing is for certain—the pain is real and you are not alone in dealing with it!

“I went to the hospital yesterday with rib pain.”

“The pain in my back and chest can be unbearable.”

“The so-called ‘rib cramps.’”

“Rib cage cramps.”

“What appear to be lung cramps.”

Too much sweat or lack of sweat

“Even if the humidity is low, I sweat.”

Several of you mentioned sweat—but the problems you have with sweating vary. Some of you mentioned that you are sweating all the time, and others of you can’t sweat. Either way, it makes sense that regulating internal temperatures would be difficult with a disease that is exacerbated by extreme temperatures—some of you have more triggers from heat and others have more triggers from cold temperatures.

“Even if the humidity is low, I sweat.”

“Does anyone sweat a lot? In addition to all the other symptoms? Especially when the humidity level is high and it’s harder to breathe.”

“I cannot sweat, so I overheat easily.”

We wish to say a thank you to everyone who shared vulnerably about how COPD affects them. We truly appreciate your honesty.

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