November 28, 2015
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COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) (cont.)

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What are the signs and symptoms of COPD?

COPD is a slowly progressive disease so it is not unusual for the initial signs and symptoms to be a bit different from those in the late stages of the disease. There are many ways to evaluate or stage COPD, often based on symptoms.

Usually the first signs and symptoms of COPD include a productive cough usually in the morning, with colorless or white mucus (sputum).

The most significant symptom of COPD is breathlessness, termed shortness of breath (dyspnea). Early on, this symptom may occur occasionally with exertion, and eventually may progress to breathlessness while doing a simple task such as standing up, or walking to the bathroom. Some people may develop wheezing (a whistling or hissing sound while breathing). Signs and symptoms of COPD include:

  • Cough, with usually colorless sputum in small amounts
  • Acute chest discomfort
  • Shortness of breath (usually occurs in patients aged 60 and over)
  • Wheezing (especially during exertion)

As the disease progresses from mild to moderate, symptoms often increase in severity:

  • Respiratory distress with simple activities like walking up a few stairs
  • Rapid breathing (tachypnea)
  • Bluish discoloration of the skin (cyanosis)
  • Use of accessory respiratory muscles
  • Swelling of extremities (peripheral edema)
  • Over-inflated lungs (hyperinflation)
  • Wheezing with minimal exertion
  • Course crackles (lung sounds usually with inspiration)
  • Prolonged exhalations (expiration)
  • Diffuse breath sounds
  • Elevated jugular venous pulse

What increases your risk for developing COPD?

People who smoke tobacco are at the highest risk for developing COPD. Other risk factors include exposure to secondhand smoke from tobacco and exposure to high levels of air pollution, especially air pollution associated with wood or coal. In addition, individuals with airway hyper-responsiveness such as those with chronic asthma are at increased risk.

There is a genetic factor called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency that places a small percentage (less than 1%) of people at higher risk for COPD (and emphysema) because a protective factor (alpha-1 antitrypsin protein) for lung tissue elasticity is decreased or absent.

Other factors that may increase the risk for developing COPD include

  • intravenous drug use,
  • immune deficiency syndromes,
  • vasculitis syndrome,
  • connective tissue disorders, and
  • genetic problems such as Salla disease (autosomal recessive disorder of sialic acid storage in the body).
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/4/2015


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