Symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) often occur years before the airflow into and out of the lungs is reduced. The severity of COPD symptoms depends on the extent to which the lung has been destroyed.
Symptoms of COPD include:
How is COPD diagnosed?
Cough, phlegm and shortness of breath can be symptoms of COPD. Some people may only notice their symptoms in winter, or they might put them down to bronchitis or ‘smoker’s cough’. This means that they might not seek help at an early stage of the disease. The sooner people seek treatment the better.
The best way to confirm diagnosis is through spirometry. This is a simple breathing test which you can usually do at your GP’s surgery. You just have to blow into a machine. This will indicate whether your airways have narrowed. In some cases you may need more detailed tests and a referral to hospital.
How do people with COPD feel?
The symptoms of COPD vary depending on how bad it is, and how people have adapted to their problems. In mild cases, symptoms like a cough, phlegm and shortness of breath may only be present during the winter or after a cold. In more severe cases, you may be short of breath every day. With more severe COPD, because of breathlessness, normal activities can become more difficult.
COPD can lead to feelings of anxiety because of breathlessness. People with COPD may reduce their activities to avoid becoming breathless. But by reducing activity levels you become less fit and therefore get breathless even sooner when you try to do any activity. People with COPD may adapt their lifestyles to reduce breathlessness - but keeping as fit as possible is important.
Some hospitals run pulmonary rehabilitation courses. These programmes involve exercise and education. Pulmonary rehabilitation improves your exercise performance, your health and your quality of life. Your doctor/nurse can tell you more.
Care and support from family and friends can do a lot to relieve anxiety and depression. The BLF's Breathe Easy support network offers information and advice to people with COPD and other lung conditions. For more details, contact Breathe Easy at the address overleaf.