Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, also known as COPD, is a disease of the lungs that affects the way our lungs pull carbon dioxide from our blood and replace it with oxygen from the air. It develops slowly, and there is no cure. There is, however, treatment available to improve the quality of the days and extend the years of life for a person diagnosed with COPD.
Early detection is very important as it can lead to lifestyle changes aimed at keeping COPD under control and asymptomatic for as long as possible. There are symptoms to be mindful of, some of which you wouldn’t think are early indicators of COPD. Check out our top 4 symptoms of COPD, plus the 4 you’d never expect!
The 4 Usual Suspects
1. Chronic Wheezing
Chronic wheezing means regular wheezing in the lungs during inhale and/or exhale. The person experiencing the wheezing may be able to hear it, and may even be able to feel it. The wheezing is caused by excess mucus on the inside of the lungs stringing itself across the tissue like strings on a guitar, producing an almost musical sound as air is forced past it. If a patient is experiencing wheezing like this off and on for several months, it’s likely a symptom of COPD.
2. Chronic Cough
A cough lasting 2 years or longer with regular or semi-regular mucus production is a symptom of COPD. The body coughs when it’s trying to clear out something in the lungs or airways, whether it’s mucus or harmful substances.
3. Chest Discomfort
COPD creates a difficult environment for the lungs. It’s not uncommon for this difficulty to be expressed as chest discomfort. It can present as a dull ache upon deep inhalation, or a general feeling of pressure or fullness in the chest.
4. Shortness of Breath
Shortness of breath is a COPD symptom able to creep up on someone. You feel fine, until suddenly you’re a little winded while taking out the trash or making the bed. It doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t breathe, or you are gasping for air, it may not look or feel like that. It may feel like you need to sit down and catch your breath when performing any task you’ve done several times before without issue. Listen to your body, and pay attention.
The 4 symptoms of COPD you’d never expect
1. Chronic Fatigue
Feeling tired all of the time? Who isn’t, right?! The truth is, chronic fatigue in and of itself is not an immediate flag for COPD. There are many things contributing to chronic fatigue, however when coupled with any of these other symptoms it can be a marker for COPD. It presents as a simple, general feeling of tiredness. Muscles feel tired, the body feels tired, the mind feels tired, it’s the product of the body losing oxygen because the lungs aren’t working as well as they should be.
2. Excessive Phlegm
A little extra phlegm is expected in the human body. Extra phlegm all the time is indicative of a problem. Extra phlegm in the airways is indicative of a lung problem – COPD. Phlegm (also known as mucus) is the body’s SOS signal in the respiratory system. It coats the inside of the lungs as a way to gather up all the harmful substances entering the lungs (i.e. cigarette smoke). The body then initiates coughing to bring up the sticky phlegm in hopes it will also bring up the harmful substances damaging the lungs. Excessive phlegm on a regular basis is the body’s cry for help – and a symptom of COPD.
3. Frequent Respiratory Infection
Inflammation makes tissue more prone to infection. COPD causes inflammation in the lungs and airways, making them susceptible to infection. This can present as bronchitis, pneumonia, or any other general infection of the lungs and airways.
Cyanosis is the skin turning a blue hue. It is most common in the lips and nail beds. It happens when the oxygen level in the bloodstream is not adequate. It is a hallmark sign of COPD.
Having one of these symptoms does not mean you have COPD. However, if you are at risk for COPD, and have these symptoms, it’s time to see your healthcare provider.
If you don’t know if you’re at risk for COPD, Orchard Hospital can help! Read more in this blog "Are You At Risk for COPD?" to find out about what makes a person more likely to have COPD. This disease is not a death sentence. It can be very manageable, but to get started you must first see a healthcare provider.
If you don’t have a healthcare provider, no problem! Come to one of our Orchard Hospital Medical Specialty Centers – Your Everyday Health Care Clinics. We have two locations: Gridley, CA and Oroville, CA. We want what’s best for your health, because that is what’s best for our community. Appointments are recommended, but walk-ins are welcome. Open 7 days a week. It’s our goal to have fast and friendly care while delivering quality health care.