Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a common problem—it is estimated that 24 million people in the United States have it—but few people understand what it is.

In fact, half of those who have COPD are unaware of it. Why? COPD symptoms may appear gradually or be misdiagnosed as something else, such as a cough, allergies, a cold or flu, or other less serious ailments.

If you have COPD, you either have emphysema or chronic bronchitis, or both. Continue reading to learn more about COPD symptoms.

1. Shortness of Breath

This is known as dyspnea in medical terms. In real life, you may experience shortness of breath that worsens with exercise or exertion.

People with COPD may struggle to catch their breath even when getting dressed or performing other daily activities over time.

The difficulty stems from a lack of lung flexibility and an inability to compress the lungs sufficiently to expel air.

2. Coughing

A persistent cough that you initially attribute to a cold or another minor condition can be an early sign of COPD. Unlike other coughs, it does not go away—or not for long.

Coughing indicates that your body is either trying to move mucus out of the lungs or reacting to irritants.

This symptom, like others, may improve temporarily with treatment, but it does not improve in the long term.

3. Excess Phlegm

A common symptom of COPD is coughing up phlegm.

Mucus is produced by healthy people to keep the airways moist. However, in COPD, excessive mucus is produced, and it can act like a spider's web, trapping smoke, bacteria, or other particles that would otherwise be expelled.

The most common type of sputum is clear, but sputum that turns deep yellow, green, brown, or red, or is blood-tinged, may indicate that the lungs are infected.

4.  Wheezing

When the airways narrow, the air attempting to enter or exit the lungs makes a whistling sound, which is known as wheezing.

One of the most common COPD symptoms is wheezing, which feels like the lungs are making a noise when they breathe.

5. Chest Pain

Another symptom that COPD patients may experience is chest pain. It can occur as a result of the effort required to breathe, causing you to become sore. It's also a lack of ability to exhale. The chest cannot truly relax. Coughing too hard can also put a strain on the chest muscles.

6. Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis, an inflammation of the bronchial tube lining, is a type of COPD. A chronic cough with phlegm or mucus is one of the symptoms.

Excess mucus can promote the growth of bacteria in the lungs. Chronic bronchitis symptoms may include a mild fever and chills if this occurs.

7. Lung Infections

COPD patients are especially vulnerable to lung infections, whether viral or bacterial.

You should get a flu shot every year, as well as any other vaccines that protect against respiratory infections.

The H1N1 vaccine and the regular seasonal flu vaccine can both be administered in a single shot, making it even easier to protect your health. The pneumovax vaccine is also recommended because it protects against the common types of bacteria that cause pneumonia.

8. Fatigue

Tiredness is a common symptom of COPD, owing to the fact that the body has to work much harder to breathe.

One study discovered that COPD patients who complained of tiredness had worse lung function and, predictably, a reduced ability to exercise.

9. Fever

People with COPD may occasionally develop a fever. Fever is commonly associated with infectious diseases.

The most common cause of COPD is smoking, not bacteria or viruses. COPD, on the other hand, can increase the risk of lung infections, which can result in a higher-than-normal body temperature.

10. Blue-Tinted Skin

Blue-tinted skin, also known as cyanosis, is a sign that not enough oxygen is reaching the body's tissues. However, this is also dependent on your natural skin color.

It'smore noticeable in people with fair skin, and it's a late—rather than an early—symptom of COPD.

11. Barrel Chest

A "barrel chest," or swelling of the chest that causes the torso to resemble, well, a barrel, can occur in some people.

This is a late-stage symptom caused by the lungs being puffed up with air that cannot be exhaled.

12. Mood or Memory Problems

A lack of oxygen supply to the brain can cause mood and memory problems as COPD progresses, but this is not a defining feature of the disease.

Around 40% of COPD patients are depressed. Although this could be due to the emotional toll of having a chronic, debilitating illness, other factors, such as low blood oxygen, could also play a role.

13. Unexplained Weight Loss

A quarter of people with COPD lose weight or struggle to maintain a healthy weight.

This is more common in people with emphysema-type COPD than in people with chronic bronchitis.

Weight loss can be caused by muscle atrophy, medications or underlying depression that cause appetite loss, increased energy expenditure from breathing, or a combination of these factors.

14. Swelling of Feet

Fluid retention can cause swelling of the feet and ankles in people with more severe COPD.

Fluid accumulation is a symptom of heart failure, which can occur as a result of COPD making the heart work harder, or kidney problems, which can occur as a result of not getting enough oxygenated blood.

15. No Symptoms at All

COPD may not have obvious symptoms, especially in the early stages. Symptoms do not usually appear suddenly. They're creeping around. People may dismiss symptoms such as pain and labored breathing. People are less likely to take action if they do not notice the symptoms.

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