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What are COPD symptoms?

A Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) diagnosis for someone aged 40 and older with respiratory symptoms includes shortness of breath, which is progressive, persistent and gets worse with exercise, a chronic cough and increased sputum (mucus production). 

COPD can develop due to cigarette smoke exposure (secondhand smoke), environmental/occupational exposure to smoke, dust, or gas/fumes; frequent respiratory infections; or a family history of COPD.

COPD covers two types of chronic (long-term) diseases where the airways in the lungs become swollen and partly blocked. It cannot be cured, but it can be treated and managed so watching for symptoms is very important.

COPD symptoms aren’t always visible until significant lung damage has happened, and they get worse over time, particularly if smoking exposure continues, according to information from the Mayo Clinic.

The signs and symptoms may include shortness of breath, especially during physical activities, wheezing, chest tightness, a chronic cough creating clear, white, yellow or greenish mucus. It can also cause respiratory infections, lack of energy, unintended weight loss and swelling in your ankles, feet or legs.

People with COPD are also likely to experience episodes called exacerbations, during which their symptoms become worse than the usual day-to-day and persist for several days. You should speak to a doctor if your symptoms are not improving with treatment or getting worse, or if you notice symptoms of an infection, such as fever or a change in sputum.

Seek immediate medical care if you can’t catch your breath, if you experience severe blueness of your lips or fingernail beds (cyanosis) or a rapid heartbeat; or if you feel foggy and have trouble concentrating.

HealthLink BC states for a diagnosis, get a physical exam and listen to your lungs. A physician will ask questions about your past and whether you smoke or have been exposed to other factors that can irritate your lungs. They will have you do breathing tests, including a spirometry exam to find out how well your lungs are functioning. They will also perform chest X-rays and other tests to help rule out other problems that could be causing your symptoms. If there is a chance you have COPD, it’s important to find out as soon as you can. This allows you to take time in taking the steps to slow the damage to your lungs.

There are treatments available, and they can ease symptoms, prevent complications, and generally slow disease progression. Your healthcare team may include a lung specialist (pulmonologist) and physical and respiratory therapists. Most treatment is either oxygen supplementation, surgery, inhaled bronchodilators or corticosteroids

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