Most people living with COPD are well aware of, and have much experience with, the common symptoms that come along with it. Shortness of breath, persistent coughing, wheezing, and fatigue are all no stranger to individuals with COPD. Some symptoms are less common, but can be indicative of more serious issues, such as respiratory failure. These symptoms are often referred to as “severe” symptoms, and can include confusion, excess sleepiness, rapid heartbeat, and slowed mental function.
However, like other chronic conditions, COPD can often present individuals with unexpected symptoms. We asked you the community what unusual symptoms you have experienced with COPD, and we received such an incredible response! Immediately upon asking for your feedback, we noticed a general trend: Many of you experienced strange cramping around your ribcage, that was often unanswered by physicians. We asked our experts to sound in and we were very pleased with the results. Now, we’ve gone through the other 40+ responses and found that many of you were experiencing the following “unusual symptoms.”
“My stomach gets hard like a rock”
“I am extremely bloated” “I can’t eat as much in one sitting” “My stomach blows up like a balloon”
Many of you noted that you experienced frequent bloating with COPD. And you were not alone! So many community members were incredibly familiar with this feeling, and there is a reason behind it: This bloat can be caused by hyperinflation of the lungs, or “long lungs” that can accompany COPD. While the bloat may not completely go away, it can be aided by engaging in nose breathing techniques.
“My skin rips with the lightest touch if I bang it on something. I have bruises and Band-Aids on most of the time”
“I find I bruise easier”
“Increase in duration of common wound healing”
“My skin tears and takes forever to heal”
Another common theme from your responses was an increased frequency of bruising and/or skin tearing. If you experience easy bruising or skin tearing, you are certainly not alone! This is incredibly common in individuals with COPD, and is often caused by medication. Specifically, corticosteroids that decrease airway inflammation can lead to a thinning of the skin. This skin thinning and skin cell death can lead to a lack of protection of the body—after all, our skin is our first line of defense! With thinner skin comes an increased ability to bruise or cut, which is why many with COPD experience this!
“No matter how I try, I have a complete lack of energy!”
“Lack of energy and interest in other things”
“It does get depressing”
“No energy, low self-esteem”
“Lack of energy for days and the depression that goes along with it”
“The slightest change in any emotion leaves me breathless and full of anxiety”
A sense of defeat or hopelessness is not uncommon for those managing a chronic illness. Struggling to be physically active and feeling like those you love don’t truly understand what you’re going through can contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression. While mental health conditions may not seem like a common COPD symptom, they often go hand in hand. This is why having open communication with physicians and loved ones can be so crucial. Seeking a diagnosis and treatment plan for mental health issues can be very beneficial for those with COPD in the long run.
It turns out, many of your “unusual symptoms” are not so unusual after all, as tons of others have experienced them as well! This is why being part of an openly communicating online community can be so helpful, and why we are so grateful to hear from you all!
American Thoracic Society / European Respiratory Society Task Force. Standards for the Diagnosis and Management of Patients with COPD [Internet]. New York: American Thoracic Society;2004 [updated 2005 September 8].
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “What is Respiratory Failure?” http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/rf [Accessed 5 May 2015.]
Merck Manuals. “Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (Chronic Bronchitis, Emphysema).” Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/lung_and_airway_disorders/chronic_obstructive_pulmonary_disease_copd/chronic_obstructive_pulmonary_disease_chronic_bronchitis_emphysema.html [Accessed 5 May 2015.]