Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive lung disease that affects millions of people worldwide. Since the symptoms of COPD can be easily overlooked, many people don’t realize they have the disease until it has advanced to a later stage.
That’s why early diagnosis and treatment are critical for managing COPD and preventing further damage to the lungs. Fortunately, you can learn everything you need to know about warning signs of COPD with a search online right now.
It Might Not Be Allergies
Early COPD symptoms can be so mild that people confuse them with other common respiratory problems, such as allergies or the common cold. People may dismiss their symptoms as a minor inconvenience or a normal part of aging. Unfortunately, delaying medical attention could allow the disease to progress to a more severe stage.
Since COPD is a progressive disease, the symptoms of COPD worsen slowly, over months or even years. As a result, people may not realize that their lung function has declined until it’s too late.
Shortness of Breath
One of the most common symptoms of COPD is shortness of breath. 1 A person may feel like they can’t catch their breath or that they’re not getting enough air. The shortness of breath can occur during physical activity, such as walking or climbing stairs. However, it can also occur at rest, especially as the disease progresses.
Shortness of breath can be a distressing symptom. It can interfere with a person’s ability to perform everyday activities, such as bathing, dressing, and cooking. In advanced stages of COPD, shortness of breath can be so severe that it requires supplemental oxygen therapy or hospitalization.
A chronic cough that produces mucus is another common warning sign of COPD. The cough may be persistent, which means it lasts for several weeks or more. Look for clear, white, or yellow mucus, which may be more abundant in the morning or after physical activity.
Chronic coughing is caused by inflammation and irritation in the airways of the lungs, which is a common feature of COPD. 2 This irritation can cause the airways to produce excess mucus, which can trigger coughing as the body tries to clear the mucus from the lungs.
Feeling a tightness or pressure in the chest is another common warning sign of COPD. This sensation may feel like a weight or a constriction around the chest, making it difficult to take deep breaths or fully expand the lungs.
Chest tightness associated with COPD is caused by narrowing of the airways, which can make it harder for air to flow in and out of the lungs. This can result in a sensation of tightness or pressure in the chest, which can be uncomfortable or even painful.
This high-pitched whistling sound that occurs when you breathe is also caused by inflammation in the lungs. Wheezing may be a symptom of asthma, but it’s also a common feature of COPD.
This whistling or wheezing sound, which may be audible to the person or others around them, can be a distressing symptom. Not only can it interfere with a person’s ability to breathe comfortably, but it may also be more pronounced during physical activity. Exposure to irritants, such as smoke or pollution, can also trigger wheezing.
While unintended weight loss is a less common warning sign of COPD, it is nonetheless an important one to notice. 3 Since COPD can make it harder for a person to breathe, sufferers tend to increase their energy expenditure and burn more calories. This can lead to weight loss if they’re not taking in enough calories to compensate.
People with COPD may experience a reduced appetite due to other symptoms, such as shortness of breath or cough. This can make it difficult for them to eat enough food to maintain their weight. COPD can also affect the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food, which can lead to malnutrition and weight loss.
Fatigue or feeling overly tired can be a difficult symptom to manage because it can affect a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. The exact causes of fatigue in people with COPD are not fully understood, but several factors may contribute.
COPD can cause low levels of oxygen in the blood, a condition known as hypoxia, which can lead to fatigue and weakness. Related symptoms, such as coughing, can also keep people with COPD awake at night, impacting their sleep quality. The increased energy expenditure discussed earlier can also factor into fatigue.
Don’t Ignore These Symptoms
If these symptoms are ignored and wind up being COPD, the disease can cause irreversible damage to the lungs. Chronic breathing problems, reduced physical activity, and increased risk of infections are among the most common complications. COPD can also have a significant impact on a person’s mental health, causing depression, anxiety, and social isolation.
If you experience any of these symptoms, especially if they persist for more than a few weeks or are accompanied by other symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider. They can perform lung function tests and other diagnostic tests to determine if you have COPD. Remember, the sooner you seek medical attention, the better your chances of managing COPD and maintaining good respiratory health.