COPD symptoms can vary based on the extent of damage in the lungs, but are usually slow to develop and often don't appear until significant damage has occurred. Symptoms can also be episodic and vary in intensity, and include one or all of the following:
Common COPD Symptoms
A cough is how the body removes mucus from the airways and the lungs and clears them of other irritants and secretions. Usually the mucus people cough up is clear, but often in people with COPD, it may be a yellow color. Often the cough is worse first thing in the morning, and you may cough more when you exercise or smoke. The cough may persist every day, even if there are no other symptoms of illness such as a cold or the flu.
Read about other causes of coughing.
When air is forced through narrow or obstructed air passages in the lungs when you exhale, you will often hear a whistling or musical sound. This is called wheezing, and in people with COPD, it is most often caused by excess mucus obstructing the airways. However, just because you wheeze doesn't mean you have COPD; wheezing is also a symptom of asthma and pneumonia.
Learn about other causes of wheezing.
Shortness of Breath (Dyspnea)
As the airways in your lungs become inflamed and damaged and begin to constrict, you might find it difficult to breathe or catch your breath. This COPD symptom is most noticeable during increased physical activity, but it can make even the most routine daily tasks, such as walking, doing simple household chores, dressing, or bathing, more difficult. At its worst, it can even occur during rest.
Find out other causes of Dyspnea.
If you have difficulty breathing, you often can't get enough oxygen to your blood and to your muscles. Without the necessary oxygen, your body slows down and fatigue sets in. You may also feel tired because your lungs are working extra hard to get the oxygen in and the carbon dioxide out, thus draining your energy.
Read about other causes of fatigue.
Other COPD Symptoms
Frequent Respiratory Infections
Because people with COPD have greater difficulty clearing their lungs of bacteria and viruses, pollutants, dust, and other irritants, they can be at greater risk for lung infections such as colds, flu, and pneumonia. Though it's difficult to avoid infections altogether, practicing good hygiene and getting the correct vaccinations can reduce your risk.
Find out other causes of frequent respiratory infections.
If you've had COPD for a long time, you may notice that you've been losing weight. The extra energy your body requires to breathe and get enough air in and out of the lungs may be burning more calories than your body is taking in, causing you to lose weight.
Read about causes of weight loss.
Advanced COPD Symptoms
- Morning headaches can occur due to higher levels of carbon dioxide in the blood.
- Swollen feet and ankles can occur due to increased stress on the heart, which has to work harder to pump blood to the damaged lungs.