Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - Symptoms 

Symptoms of COPD 

The 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. 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

If you have these symptoms, you should see your GP to ensure you are diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

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.

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 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 lung cancer.

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.


Page last reviewed: 11/09/2012

Next review due: 11/09/2014

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