Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an umbrella term for a number of lung diseases that make breathing difficult. COPD is a massively under diagnosed disease that is the third leading cause of death in the world. COPD often leads to exacerbations that significantly impact on quality of life and increases the risk of death  of nonmedical interventions. Therefore, it is vital that the warning signs of COPD are identified.

In order to identify the warning signs of COPD, it is essential to identify the two main types of the disease.

Types of COPD


There is damage to the walls of the air sacs (alveoli) of the lung. This reduces the lung surface area accessible for oxygen to be transferred from the lungs to the bloodstream and carbon dioxide to be transferred from the bloodstream to the lungs to be exhaled into the air.

Chronic bronchitis

There is longstanding inflammation of the bronchi. This happens when the airways in the lungs get irritated and inflamed, in this case mainly due to smoking. This disease causes thick mucus to build up in the airways. The tiny hairs in the lungs that ordinarily transport phlegm out are also injured. People with chronic bronchitis will have a productive cough for at least 3 months of a year in two consecutive years. 

Even though there are two types of COPD, the primary symptoms are similar to one another. COPD  has a clear cause, a clear path of prevention and there are ways to slow the progression of the disease. Therefore, it is essential to identify the warning signs of COPD.


#1 Shortness of Breath

Shortness of Breath is the feeling of breathlessness when the lungs take more effort than usual to move air in and out. This occurs because there is a mismatch between the oxygen demands of the body and the rate at which the lungs can deliver oxygen. This may occur throughout physical activity such as climbing a flight of stairs. Worsening of the shortness of Breath can result in breathlessness at rest or with minor activities such as getting dressed or washing.

While home remedies to manage breathlessness can be tried, it is important to identify that shortness of breath is an early sign of COPD. 


#2 Chest tightness

Chest discomfort may be experienced when there is difficulty in  taking in a deep breath, or there may be a feeling of a tight band around the chest pain.

Chest tightness is particularly experienced when narrowing of the airways occurs due to bronchospasm (tightening of the air tubes) gives chest tightness. This occurs when the muscles surrounding the airways suddenly become extremely tight. When the muscles contract, the airways become too narrow to allow enough air to pass through. 


#3 Chronic cough

Another early sign of COPD is a persistent cough. This could be a cough that is not accompanied by other symptoms of a cold or flu. Chronic cough is a predominant sign that indicates the lungs are not functioning normally. As COPD can cause the lungs to produce excess mucus, this disease leads to frequent coughing, particularly with the excitation of phlegm in the morning. 

The expectorated mucus may be clear but more often is yellow in colour. During exacerbations or infections it may be brown or green in colour.  People with COPD tend to expect more phlegm on first waking up in the morning, as well as with exercise or after smoking. 

It is vital to make sure coughing is done in an effective way that does not cause airways to collapse, further trapping mucus.


#4 Increased mucus

People with COPD usually produce   more mucus than usual.  Mucus is produced by the lungs to capture or keep breathed irritants out. The little hair cells in the airways (cilia) can facilitate clearance of bugs and irritants when it is trapped in mucus. 


#5 Wheezing

In COPD, air turbulence occurs as air flows through the narrow  air tubes the airway walls vibrate. This vibration produces a whistling sound that is high in pitch and referred to as wheeze 

Both Asthma and COPD which are both chronic lung diseases that cause swelling in the airways result in wheezing. Therefore, it is crucial to identify whether the occurrence of wheezing is due to asthma or COPD. Importantly, there are many other causes of wheeze that can mimic asthma or COPD that your lung specialist can assess. 

COPD arises mainly due to the damage caused by smoking.Causes as a result of an inflammatory reaction caused mainly byallergens.
Includes a cough that brings up phlegmCauses attacks of wheezing and may include a cough.
COPD generally develops after age 40 years.Asthma can develop in people of any age.
COPD, symptoms are constant and get worse over time, even with treatment.Symptoms can come and go, and you may be symptom-free for a long time.
Differences between COPD and Asthma

#6 Swelling of Feet, ankles and legs

Oedema, is the medical term for fluid retention in the body. With COPD, peripheral oedema mahy develop, which is most often seen as swelling of the feet, ankles  and legs.

Low oxygen levels result in an increase to the arterial pressure within the lungs. This in turn places strain on the heart and results in the buildup of fluid (Oedema) in the dependent areas of the body feet. This is usually a sign of advanced COPD.


#7 Lack of energy

People with COPD frequently experience tiredness. fatigue is a prominent issue for patients living with COPD. 

This happens as COPD limits the amount of oxygen that gets into the body, making breathing unpleasant and laborious. Hence, the body will become fatigued and exhausted if it does not receive adequate oxygen. Additionally, the work of breathing uses up much energy and people with COPD may struggle to keep on their weight. 


If you are experiencing any of these 7 warning signs of COPD it is important that you see a specialist lung doctor to do an assessment and make a diagnosis so that prompt treatment can be initiated. 

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