25 COPD signs and symptoms you need to know

What is COPD?

COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It a disease that slowly damages your lungs.

COPD signs and symptoms

Many signs of COPD develop slowly over a long period of time.It is easy to miss COPD signs and symptoms because of this slow progression.

Here is the list of all 25 COPD signs and symptoms:

  1. Cough that won’t go away
  2. Copious amounts of sputum production while coughing
  3. Wheezing when breathing
  4. Out of breath with little exertion
  5. Feeling tired all the time
  6. Feel like lot of work to perform everyday activities that used to be easy
  7. Running out of breath while climbing stairs
  8. Increased work of breathing
  9. Heaviness in chest
  10. Muscle weakness and cramps
  11. Increased redness of the face
  12. Bluish discoloration of lips
  13. Bluish discoloration of finger nails
  14. Feel like not getting enough air, always hungry for more air
  15. Trouble sleeping
  16. Concentration problems, memory loss
  17. Puffy eyes and puffy face
  18. Swollen feet and ankles
  19. Dizziness or lightheadedness with activity
  20. Chest tightness
  21. Trouble speaking in full sentences
  22. Unintentional weight loss
  23. Decreased appetite
  24. Depression
  25. Gasping for air

COPD stages

COPD Stage 1 : Airflow in patients with COPD stage 1 is reduced to no less than 80% of the normal for that patient. Normal airflow for any individual patient is calculated based on the gender, age and height.

COPD Stage 2: Airflow in patients with COPD stage 2 is reduced to a value between 50% and 80% of the normal for the patient.

COPD Stage 3: Airflow in patients with COPD stage 3 is reduced to a value between 30% and 50% of the normal for the patient.

COPD Stage 4: Airflow in patients with COPD stage 4 is reduced to less than 30% of the normal for the patient.

How do you diagnose COPD?

To diagnose COPD, you need an accurate measurement of your airflow. Airflow can be accurately measured by an instrument called spirometer. You breathe in and out into this instrument according to the instructions provided by the expert technician. They will measure and evaluate the flow of air. After careful measurement and analysis, they will be able to diagnose COPD.

COPD causes: How do you get chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?

Smoking is one of the most common causes of COPD. Eight out of ten people who die from COPD are smokers. The association between COPD and smoking has been known and studied for more than 50 years. COPD from smoking has been the subject of many research studies. COPD is the most common lung disease from smoking.

How does smoking cause COPD ?

Here is an alarming smoking statistics: More than 480000 Americans die each year directly because of cigarette smoking. Here are some smoking facts: 27.6 million Americans smoke everyday and 8.9 million Americans smoke on some days. Lung disease from smoking presents a significant burden on our health care system. Medical care on smoking related health problems costs us $170 billion every year.

Scientists have performed numerous human and animal studies to figure out how smoking causes COPD. Here is a summary of how smoking causes COPD.

Cigarette smoke has been known to have many different harmful chemicals. Among them, a class of chemicals called oxidants have been found to be the main cause of COPD in smokers. These oxidants cause widespread inflammation inside the lungs of people who inhale cigarette smoke. This inflammation spreads to large and small airways. This inflammation slowly destroys the elastic tissue and lead to the formation of fibers and scars. This eventually leads to widespread lung damage that is characteristic of COPD from smoking.

What causes COPD besides smoking?

You may be surprised to know that 1 in 4 Americans diagnosed with COPD are non-smokers. There are many causes of COPD other than smoking. However, most researchers have only been able to establish a link or association between these factors and COPD. They have not been proven as definite causes of COPD.

Important causes of COPD other than smoking:

  1. Secondhand smoking: Inhaling secondhand cigarette smoke is an important cause of COPD in non-smokers. Many studies have looked into the effects of secondhand smoke. People who are exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke have been found to have significant decline in their lung function. Some studies have even suggested that exposure to secondhand smoke in childhood may increase the chances of getting COPD as an adult.
  2. Outdoor air pollution: Many studies have suggested a link between outdoor air pollutants and COPD. Although not proven, air pollution could be an important cause of COPD besides smoking.
  3. Coal dust: Exposure to coal dust has strong association with COPD.
  4. Welding Fumes: Exposure to welding fumes has been evaluated as a possible cause of COPD other than smoking.
  5. Biomass fuel smoke: Exposure to smoke from burning biomass fuel used in developing countries for cooking has been linked with COPD in those places. It is considered to be an important cause of COPD other than smoking.
  6. Alpha1-antitrypsin deficiency: This is a genetic defect that makes you more susceptible to the kind of lung damage that leads to COPD. People with this genetic defect may develop COPD even without smoking. Smokers with Alpha1-antitrypsin deficiency may develop severe COPD at an early age within just a few years of smoking.

COPD symptoms vs pneumonia symptoms

Both COPD and pneumonia may cause cough with sputum production and shortness of breath. However, pneumonia is an acute disease whereas COPD is a chronic heath issue. It means that symptoms of pneumonia are usually short lived and they get better with treatment. On the other hand, COPD symptoms last a long time and do not completely go away with treatment. Cough that won’t go away is the hallmark of COPD symptoms while rapid onset cough with fever and shortness of breath is the hallmark of pneumonia symptoms.

There is another important point you need to consider when comparing COPD symptoms to pneumonia symptoms. COPD symptoms and pneumonia symptoms can occur together. Patients with COPD symptoms are at increased risk of developing pneumonia. Pneumonia may be the reason for exacerbation of COPD symptoms in these patients. It may be very difficult to distinguish between the symptoms of COPD exacerbation and symptoms of pneumonia in patients with COPD. If a patient has fever on top of other usual COPD symptoms, it is more likely that he/she may have pneumonia. The only way to differentiate COPD symptoms and pneumonia symptoms is to get a chest x-ray or a CAT scan of the chest.

COPD symptoms vs symptoms of asthma

COPD and Asthma can both cause wheezing when breathing. COPD and asthma can both make you out of breath with little exertion. COPD symptoms and symptoms of asthma may feel similar in number of other ways. However it is important to distinguish between COPD symptoms and symptoms of asthma because the underlying lung problem is different.

For the most part, asthma symptoms are intermittent. Asthma symptoms mostly occur in episodes. Symptoms of asthma are usually triggered by something and they go away with treatment. People with asthma may have normal lung function if measured at a time when their asthma is not acting up. COPD symptoms are different from symptoms of asthma because COPD is a progressive disease. COPD symptoms may get better at times and get worse at times but, unlike symptoms of asthma, they do not go away completely. Most patients with COPD symptoms already have underlying irreversible lung damage.

COPD symptoms vs lung cancer symptoms

People with COPD symptoms are also at risk for developing lung cancer. Lung cancer symptoms in those patients may be hard to distinguish from symptoms of COPD. Lung cancer symptoms also include cough that won’t go away, wheezing when breathing, out of breath with little exertion, loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss.

Lung cancer is frequently discovered on chest ray done on patients with COPD symptoms when they go to ER for exacerbation (acute worsening) of their COPD symptoms. It is important to follow up any abnormal or suspicious looking chest ray with a CAT scan or some other imaging to make sure that the signs of lung cancer do not get missed in those patients with symptoms of COPD exacerbation.

COPD symptoms vs heart disease symptoms

Patients with COPD symptoms are also at risk for heart disease. Some COPD symptoms overlap with heart disease symptoms.Out of breath with little exertion, heaviness in chest, chest tightness, trouble sleeping, swollen feet and ankles ,and gasping for air are some of the heart disease symptoms that overlap with COPD symptoms.

To distinguish between COPD symptoms and heart disease symptoms, you need to look at the timeline of the symptoms. Heart disease symptoms usually start abruptly and worsen quickly. COPD symptoms have a slower onset than heart disease symptoms. However, it may not be possible to clearly exclude heart disease symptoms in someone with acute exacerbation of COPD. It is important to maintain a high degree of suspicion to look out for heart disease symptoms in patients with COPD who visit the ER for worsening of their COPD symptoms.