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Warning Signs for People with COPD

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Zen Heath Zen Heath (New)

How do you know if you have COPD? Learn more about its symptoms, and spot its warning signs before it gets worse.

Warning Signs for People with COPD

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 15 million people in the United States are affected by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a lung condition that affects one's breathing and can develop into a life-threatening disease. In fact, a lot more people may already be living with COPD without their knowledge.

One of the reasons COPD can be underdiagnosed is that its symptoms may be mistaken as natural signs of aging. This is why it is important to identify even the mildest symptoms to allow early diagnosis and treatment. This way, the condition is better managed or prevented.

The earlier you are diagnosed with CPOD, the more chances you can prevent it from getting worst. Spot the early signs of COPD before it is too late.

Shortness of Breath

One of the most common COPD symptoms is the feeling of tightness in the chest and shortness of breath. According to pulmonologist Barry Make, MD, it is even a major warning sign to look out for. If you find yourself often feeling out of breath even when you're just doing simple everyday activities, you should consult a pulmonologist.

Ongoing Cough

A cough that's going on for too long is one of the initial signs of COPD. While coughing is the body's natural way of protecting the airways from inhaling irritants such as smoke and clearing the breathing passages of mucus, having a chronic cough is a warning sign that the lungs are not functioning well. If you have been coughing on a regular basis for a few weeks now, or if you are starting to wheeze, be sure to keep your health-care provider posted.

Increase in Mucus

With coughing comes the production of large quantities of mucus or phlegm. Naturally, the lungs produce mucus to trap irritants or to keep them out, but having lots of mucus come out from your lungs instead of the sinuses can be a red flag for COPD. If you feel the need to clear your throat from phlegm first thing in the morning, especially if it appears yellow or green or is tinged with blood, you may be experiencing a common COPD symptom.

When to Call for Emergency Care

Over time, initial symptoms may become severe, especially when no proper treatment or lifestyle adjustments have been done. With this, patients need to identify severe COPD symptoms that already call for medical attention. Seek emergency care right away if you find it difficult to catch your breath and to even speak more than a few phrases.

One thing to watch out for also is cyanosis or the blue or grayish discoloration of the lips and fingernails. This can be a sign that your blood's oxygen level is dropping below normal. Once a low blood-oxygen saturation is confirmed by pulse oximetry, you may be given supplemental oxygen to keep your body functioning.

Another serious COPD warning sign is a change in mental alertness and an increase in heartbeat. A COPD flare-up can put you in a potentially life-threatening state, which is why it is important that immediate action is taken once these symptoms surface.

Avoiding COPD Flare-ups

The main goal of COPD treatment is to enjoy a quality of life by keeping symptoms under control as much as possible. Aside from regularly keeping in touch with your doctor, you can keep COPD symptoms at bay by getting flu shots every year, washing your hands as often as you can, keeping yourself hydrated and well-rested, and ultimately living a healthy lifestyle. In the end, it is still up to you to take control of your condition.

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4 Comment(s)

brillohead, ADN, RN

Specializes in Cardio-Pulmonary; Med-Surg; Private Duty. Has 5 years experience.

Are we giving out medical advice here now?


Specializes in LTC.

A diagnosis of a chronic disease such as COPD can create a label that one may have to carry around forever as a PRE-EXISTING CONDITION.

Not something desirous in this time of excluded diagnoses and high insurance costs, esp when based on S&S that could be of multicausal origin.

traumaRUs, MSN, APRN, CNS

Specializes in Nephrology, Cardiology, ER, ICU. Has 27 years experience.

Staff note: as per our terms of service, this is NOT medical advice but rather just general info.

canoehead, BSN, RN

Specializes in ER. Has 30 years experience.

I have some nursing advice. Don't go outside to smoke, in the rain, with your oxygen canister, hourly, when you are admitted with COPD. It negates everything your nurses do to help you.