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Harvard Commentaries
35320
Harvard Commentaries
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School


Symptoms Of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease


July 14, 2010

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Symptoms Of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

 

The symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are related to difficulty breathing, difficulty getting enough oxygen into the blood, and difficulty clearing extra mucus from the airways by coughing.

 

Coughing is an important identifying feature of chronic bronchitis. You may first develop a cough that brings up phlegm on some mornings. Eventually, the cough occurs on most days and may start interfering with your breathing or your ordinary activities. Because the symptoms of COPD are similar to other serious problems such as heart disease or anemia, a health-care provider should always evaluate your symptoms thoroughly, especially if they start suddenly.

 

Common symptoms of COPD include:
    • Persistent cough. Coughing usually brings up white or beige mucus (phlegm), usually more so in the morning than later in the day. Call your health-care provider for an evaluation if you cough up mucus that turns green or bloody or if you also develop a fever or increased shortness or breath.

 

    • Breathlessness. Breathlessness is usually first noticed when walking, going up stairs or exercising. It may eventually limit daily activities and, in some people, occurs even at rest.

 

    • Dizziness. Low levels of blood oxygen may cause light-headedness.

 

    • Wheezing. Wheezing is whistling sound that occurs during breathing. Wheezing can occur in COPD, as it does in asthma.

 

    • Fatigue. Low oxygen levels in the body can cause you to feel tired.

 

    • Bluish fingertips or lips. This is a sign of very low oxygen levels or poor blood circulation and requires immediate medical attention.

 

  • Weight loss. When breathing becomes very difficult, you use your chest and neck muscles to breathe more than you use your diaphragm. This kind of breathing takes up a lot of energy, causing you to lose weight and muscle mass.

 

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