Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

What Are the Symptoms of COPD?

Signs and symptoms of COPD include:

  • Chronic cough
  • Shortness of breath while doing everyday activities (dyspnea) Difficulty breathing.
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Blueness of the lips or fingernail beds (cyanosis)Bluish tint of skin or mucus caused by lack of oxygen.
  • Fatigue
  • Producing a lot of mucus (also called phlegm or sputum) Mucus coughed up from the lungs.
  • Wheezing

Many people don't experience symptoms of COPD until later stages of the disease. If you experience any of these symptoms, or think you might be at risk for COPD, it is important to contact your doctor as soon as possible.

Remember: Don't wait for symptoms to become severe because valuable treatment time could be lost. Early detection of COPD is key to successful treatment.

How Is COPD Diagnosed?

If you are at risk for COPD or have symptoms of COPD, you should be tested through spirometry. A common test that measures how much air a person can inhale and exhale and speed of exhalation. It is often used to diagnose lung disease Spirometry is a simple test of how well your lungs work. For this test, you blow air into a mouthpiece and tubing attached to a small machine. The machine measures the amount of air you blow out and how fast you can blow it. Your doctor will also ask for a complete health history and do a health exam. They may also want you to have a chest x-ray and/or other tests, like an arterial blood gas test. Measures the acidity and the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood from an artery to check how well the lungs are able to move oxygen into the blood and remove carbon dioxide from the blood.

If you are diagnosed with COPD, you and your doctor will discuss a treatment plan just for you.

How Is COPD Treated?

  • If you are a smoker, quitting smoking will slow the progression of the disease.
  • Take your medicines as prescribed by your doctor. These are usually inhalers that can open your airways and keep them from getting swollen. Some may be taken with a nebulizer, a machine that changes liquid medicine into a fine mist which makes it easier to inhale deep into the lungs.
  • If your COPD is severe, oxygen therapy may be used to help with shortness of breath. This may be needed all day and all night or only part of the time. Be sure to understand how to safely use oxygen.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation is a program that teaches you about COPD, how to exercise, how to manage your disease and provides support and counseling.
  • In some rare cases, surgery may be recommended for people with very severe COPD.
  • It is important to speak to your doctor about whether or not you should consider a clinical trial as a treatment option.
  • Some people find relief from their symptoms and improved quality of life by accessing complementary therapies.

» Learn more about COPD treament options.