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COPD: Signs and Symptoms, Treatments, & Causes

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD is a condition around airflow limitation, which is progressive and not fully reversible, and is linked to irregular inflammation of the lungs due to inhaled toxic gases or particles. The root of the issue around the illness is that it causes an obstruction around airflow both in and out of an individual’s lungs, making it hard to breath. Related conditions to this disease include asthma, as well as chronic bronchitis.

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While there is no cure for this condition; however, much like any other illness, early detection is key for treatment success and to ease the signs and symptoms of COPD.

Signs and Symptoms

Unfortunately, a majority of COPD sufferers don’t pick up on the signs and symptoms of the illness until much later within the progression of the condition, and sometimes this can be too late. While the disease is not necessarily fatal, the symptoms of the illness severely affect one’s quality of life.

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There are those who view some of these early COPD signs (e.g. shortness of breath) as more of something associated with ‘getting older’, and simply go on about their lives without seeking medical attention. Sadly, early diagnosis can help ease COPD signs and symptoms significantly.

If you notice any of the below signs and symptoms in yourself or a loved one, a prompt visit to your family doctor is a must. Below are nine signs and symptoms of COPD:

  • Shortness of breath while partaking in daily activities, also sometimes referred to as dyspnea.
  • Chest discomfort.
  • Chronic coughing.
  • Suffering from respiratory infections on a frequent basis.
  • Listlessness, feeling tired, and ongoing fatigue.
  • Blue fingernail beds and lips.
  • Ongoing wheezing.
  • Abnormal lung sounds.
  • Excessive production of phlegm and mucus.


COPD goes hand in hand with emphysema and chronic bronchitis conditions. While most patients of this illness have some or both of these disorders, there will be one of the above conditions that are more predominant than the other. Once an individual recognizes the signs and symptoms of the COPD and ensures to visit their family physician around a diagnosis, the doctor will most likely have questions around respiratory illnesses and family history, lifestyles choices, as well as any medications that a person currently uses. A physical exam, as well as lab tests, will help diagnose COPD (and its severity), and once the condition has been detected, treatment options available are the following forms:


There are a wide variety of COPD medications available, and as everyone is different (and the severity of the condition differs within patients), the doctor assigned to each case works with the COPD sufferer to find the best medication option available to help relieve COPD symptoms, so a person can breathe better, partake in daily activities again at leisure, as well reduce exacerbations and flare-ups.


Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehab programs combine nutrition, exercise, education, as well as advice and counsel, to help COPD sufferers rebuild their strength once again to enjoy their lives.

These programs focus on increasing awareness around lungs and the COPD condition itself. Patients learn to exercise without getting short of breath, and classes are offered in groups so that individuals with the condition can get support from other peers suffering from the illness. These rehab sessions have been said to help decrease visits to the hospital as well. They can fun, informative, and offer a great support network.


Supplemental Oxygen

Oxygen to the lungs is needed for everything from household chores, to running errands, and even digesting food properly. Those who suffer from COPD need a boost when it comes to oxygen, and in those cases supplemental oxygen (sometimes referred to as oxygen therapy) are given. This COPD treatment offers individuals with ‘extra’ oxygen via a device, and while many may relate these items to something they see in a hospital, these are also things that can be delivered to homes. Some examples of oxygen therapy items include: compressed oxygen, a liquid system, or oxygen concentrators.


For more severe COPD cases, doctors will suggest lung surgery to help individuals who have a very difficult time breathing. This certainly is not an option for every COPD patient and is something to talk about with a physician.

Another option for some limited cases includes a lung transplant, if the COPD damage to the lungs is beyond repair. While lung transplants can improve breathing and activity, there are also considerable risks and complications involved.

Complementary Therapies

Some unconventional therapies that help ease symptoms of COPD include: acupuncture, massage therapy, and yoga. While they don’t treat COPD or cure the condition, they do help with a patient’s quality of life, as well as the illness overall.


While the main cause of COPD is smoking, exposure to other irritants over time can cause this condition and damage your lung and airways. Non-smokers have been known to contract the illness, despite staying away from the bad habit.


As established above, cigarette smoking is the main cause of COPD, causing approximately 85-90 percent of all cases. Additionally, women who smoke are close to 13 times likelier to die from COPD, versus a female who has never smoked. Meanwhile, men who smoke are close to 12 times likelier to pass away from COPD, compared with other men who don’t light up. In fact, cigarette can create over seven thousand chemicals; mostly harmful and toxic ones. These chemicals essentially weaken lung defenses when it comes to infections, create swelling within an individual’s air tubes, erase air sacs, and decrease airway passages; all things that cause COPD and its symptoms. The best way to prevent COPD is to quit smoking, and if you are a non-smoker, stay away from smoking areas and never try this awful practice.

The Environment

The air that we breath while outside, at home, or during the workday can play a major role in COPD. In fact, exposure to second-hand smoke, air pollution, fumes, dust, as well as chemicals, over a long period of time can create the COPD condition. Should you work in an industry that requires you to be around a lot of dust, chemical, and fumes, ensure to wear protective gear to help keep these horrible toxics away from your lungs.

Alpha-1 Deficiency

While it is very rare, there is a small group of individuals who contract a type of COPD known as the alpha-1 deficiency, which is linked to emphysema. Unlike the regular COPD, this condition is brought on by family genes and it affects an individual’s ability to create alpha-1, a protein that helps to protect the lungs in your body.


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