Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - Symptoms 

Symptoms of COPD 

Symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) usually develop over a number of years, so you may not be aware you have the condition.

COPD does not usually become noticeable until after the age of 35 and most people diagnosed with the condition are over 50 years old.

See your GP if you have the following symptoms:

  • increasing breathlessness when exercising or moving around
  • a persistent cough with phlegm that never seems to go away
  • frequent chest infections, particularly in winter
  • wheezing

Middle-aged smokers and ex-smokers who have a persistent chesty cough (especially in the morning), breathlessness on slight exertion or persistent coughs and colds in the winter should see their GP or practice nurse for a simple breathing test.

If you have COPD, the airways of the lungs become inflamed and narrowed. As the air sacs get permanently damaged, it will become increasingly difficult to breathe out.

While there is currently no cure for COPD, the sooner the condition is diagnosed and appropriate treatment begins, the less chance there is of severe lung damage.

Read more about treating COPD.

Flare-ups

Symptoms of COPD are often worse in winter, and it is common to have two or more flare-ups a year. A flare-up (also known as an exacerbation) is when your symptoms are particularly bad. This is one of the most common reasons for people being admitted to hospital in the UK.

Other signs of COPD

Other signs of COPD can include:

  • weight loss
  • tiredness and fatigue
  • swollen ankles

Chest pain and coughing up blood (haemoptysis) are not common symptoms of COPD. They are usually caused by other conditions such as a chest infection or, less commonly, lung cancer.


Page last reviewed: 01/10/2014

Next review due: 01/10/2016

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