What are the Early Symptoms of COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung disease, causing obstructed airflow in the lungs.


COPD causes the lungs to thicken, destroying the tissue where oxygen is exchanged. This causes less oxygen to get into the body’s tissues, making it harder to eliminate waste and carbon dioxide. As the disease progresses, shortness of breath worsens, making it harder to stay active.


According to the American Lung Association, COPD affects more than 16.4 million people, and more may have the disease without knowing it.


By knowing the causes and symptoms of COPD, you may be able to lower your risk and keep your lungs healthy.



What Causes COPD?

COPD is often caused by long-term exposure to irritants, such as cigarette smoke. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are common conditions that typically contribute to COPD.

Having COPD also puts you at risk for developing heart disease, lung cancer, and other conditions.



How to Prevent COPD

The majority of COPD cases have a clear cause. Most cases of COPD are directly related to smoking.


To prevent COPD:

  • Quit smoking. Talk to your doctor about smoking cessation programs.
  • Stay up to date on vaccines, especially annual flu shots and vaccines against pneumococcal pneumonia, as these reduce risk for and prevent some lung infections.



Symptoms of COPD

Early symptoms of COPD often go unnoticed. Older adults may believe shortness of breath is a normal part of aging. If you notice any of the following symptoms, or think you may be at risk for COPD, discuss your concerns with your physician.



1. Shortness of Breath

Breathlessness, or shortness of breath, is one of the most common symptoms of COPD. Because of obstruction in the breathing tubes, COPD makes it difficult to move air in and out of the lungs. This causes difficulty breathing.



2. Producing a lot of mucus

People with COPD often also have chronic bronchitis, an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, characterized by a daily cough and mucus production. When lungs are infected, they protect themselves by producing more mucus, which can make you cough.



3. Chronic cough

Excess mucus production causes people with COPD to experience chronic coughing.



4. Frequent respiratory infections

Inability to clear excess mucus can lead to respiratory infection.



5. Wheezing

People with COPD also often have emphysema, a condition in which the smallest air passages of the lungs are destroyed as a result of cigarette smoke or other irritants. This can result in wheezing when breathing.



6. Fatigue

Due to experiencing shortness of breath, many people with COPD also experience tiredness. The feelings of fatigue can discourage people from keeping active, which leads to a greater loss of energy.


People with COPD can also experience episodes called exacerbations, when symptoms are worse than usual and persist for several days.



Diagnosing COPD

Consult your physician if you notice early symptoms of COPD, as it is a treatable condition. They will evaluate your symptoms, ask about your health history and conduct a physical examination to determine a diagnosis.

COPD is a progressive condition, but with proper management, you can achieve symptom control and reduce your risk of other conditions.

If you can’t catch your breath, or if you experience blueness in your lips or fingers, seek immediate medical care.




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Content contained on this page is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Consult your health care provider before beginning any new fitness or dietary plan. References provided are for informational purposes only and do not constitute endorsement of any websites or other sources. Should you have any health-related questions, you should contact your health care provider.



  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/copd/symptoms-causes/syc-20353679
  2. https://www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/resources/signs-symptoms-of-COPD.pdf
  3. https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/copd/symptoms-diagnosis



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