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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of COPD?

At first, COPD may cause no symptoms or only mild symptoms. As the disease gets worse, symptoms usually become more severe. Common signs and symptoms of COPD include:

  • An ongoing cough or a cough that produces a lot of mucus (often called "smoker's cough")
  • Shortness of breath, especially with physical activity
  • Wheezing (a whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe)
  • Chest tightness

If you have COPD, you also may have colds or the flu (influenza) often.

Not everyone who has the symptoms above has COPD. Likewise, not everyone who has COPD has these symptoms. Some of the symptoms of COPD are similar to the symptoms of other diseases and conditions. Your doctor can find out whether you have COPD.

If your symptoms are mild, you may not notice them, or you may adjust your lifestyle to make breathing easier. For example, you may take the elevator instead of the stairs.

Over time, symptoms may become severe enough to see a doctor. For example, you may get short of breath during physical exertion.

The severity of your symptoms will depend on how much lung damage you have. If you keep smoking, the damage will occur faster than if you stop smoking.

Severe COPD can cause other symptoms, such as swelling in your ankles, feet, or legs; weight loss; and lower muscle endurance.

Some severe symptoms may require treatment in a hospital. You—with the help of family members or friends, if you're unable—should seek emergency care if:

  • You're having a hard time catching your breath or talking.
  • Your lips or fingernails turn blue or gray. (This is a sign of a low oxygen level in your blood.)
  • You're not mentally alert.
  • Your heartbeat is very fast.
  • The recommended treatment for symptoms that are getting worse isn't working.
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The NHLBI "Grand Opportunity" Exome Sequencing Project

Join Us for a National COPD Awareness Month Twitter Chat on November 19! In celebration of National COPD Awareness Month and World COPD Day, the NHLBI COPD Learn More Breathe Better® campaign, along with campaign partners is hosting a Twitter Chat on Tuesday, November 19 at 2 p.m. EST. The Twitter Chat will engage the COPD community and those at risk to talk about the disease, its signs and symptoms, and treatment options. Go to twitter.com. and search for #BreatheBetter2013 to join the chat.

COPD Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for COPD, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.


COPD in the News

November 15, 2013
NIH survey identifies barriers to effective patient-provider dialogue about COPD
Lack of communication between patients and health care providers about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) remains a major barrier to diagnosis of this disease, according to the results of a Web-based survey released today by the National Heart Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health.

View all COPD Press Releases


November Is National COPD Awareness Month

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Join the NHLBI and the COPD Learn More Breathe Better® campaign as we raise awareness about COPD and encourage those at risk to discuss symptoms with a doctor.

If you have COPD or think you might be at risk, you can take steps to make breathing easier and live a longer and more active life. Get a simple breathing test and talk with your doctor or health care provider about treatment options.

The NHLBI developed the national COPD Learn More Breathe Better® campaign to increase awareness of COPD. The campaign aims to help people with COPD and those at risk get diagnosed early, understand their treatment options, and live better with the disease.

Learn more about key campaign events, activities, and resources


 
July 31, 2013 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.

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