Know the early warning signs of COPD



Early treatment may prevent its progression

Know the early warning signs of COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a long-term lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. A leading cause of disability and death in the United States, more than 12.5 million people have been diagnosed, and millions more may have the disease without even knowing it. While there is no cure, knowing COPD’s early warning signs can lead to earlier treatment and may prevent its progression.

The American Lung Association, funded with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is sharing the following insights to help Americans recognize the warning signs of COPD and take action:

Early Warning Signs of COPD

Not everyone has the same COPD symptoms, but some of the more common early warning signs and symptoms may include shortness of breath, a cough that may bring up mucus or phlegm, chest tightness, fatigue and reoccurring lung infections. People may think these symptoms are because of aging, smoking or being out of shape and become less active to avoid experiencing them. These signs and symptoms shouldn’t be ignored. Speak with your healthcare provider if you experience any of these symptoms and discuss any activities you are avoiding due to breathing difficulties.

Risk Factors and Diagnosis

Anyone can develop COPD, but people aged 40 or older and those who smoke or used to smoke are at higher risk. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD, however 1 in 4 people with COPD never smoked cigarettes. Secondhand smoke, air pollution, workplace exposures to dust, fumes and chemicals, and a genetic condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AATD) are also causes and risk factors for COPD.

People are often diagnosed at later stages of COPD when the disease has progressed because they delayed sharing their early symptoms with their healthcare provider. Everyone with risk factors and those experiencing early warning signs should talk to their healthcare provider about any breathing issues. It’s especially important for women to do so. Because COPD has been historically thought of as a “man’s disease” or an “old person’s disease,” women are sometimes misdiagnosed or receive a delayed diagnosis. But overall, more women are affected by COPD than men and the death rate is higher in women. In addition, women tend to develop the disease at a younger age.

To diagnose COPD, the healthcare provider will evaluate symptoms, gather a complete health history, conduct a health exam and perform a pulmonary function test called spirometry. The results of the spirometry test can determine if you have COPD.


Lifestyle Changes

In addition to treatment, certain lifestyle changes may make a difference, as patients living with COPD know firsthand. After being diagnosed with stage 2 COPD in the wake of a COVID-19 infection, Bob F. partnered with his doctor and started monitoring his breathing at home and leaned into exercise. His hard work has paid off, with his last pulmonary function test showing that the disease has not progressed, and he is in better overall shape than before.

“Most of the advice you should follow is no different than what doctors tell us all. Eat right, exercise, sleep, drink plenty of water, manage your weight and don’t smoke. If you do these things, you may slow the progression of your COPD,” says Bob.

But you shouldn’t wait until a COPD diagnosis to make these changes. Lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, avoiding secondhand smoke and reducing your exposure to air pollution may reduce your risk for developing COPD. If you are experiencing shortness of breath or other respiratory symptoms, do not delay talking to your healthcare provider about your symptoms or COPD risk factors. For more information about COPD, visit Lung.org/COPD.

(StatePoint) 
Photo of senior and doctor: (c) SDI Productions / Getty Images


Other articles by HVP News Reporters


  • Guilt-free, superfruit snacking

    Sweet treats made to permissibly indulge

    For many, enjoying a small indulgence can serve as a reward for a job well done or a mood-boosting pick-me-up. In fact, mindful snacking is on-trend for a majority of consumers. read more »
  • Getting healthier starts wth your feet

    Start your wellness goals from the ground up

    Good foot and ankle health is critical for good overall health, so no matter what your wellness goals are, be sure to start from the ground up. read more »
  • Dangerous heart conditions often go undetected in pregnant and postpartum women

    A torn ACL revealed an undiagnosed heart defect

    National Jewish Health experts advocate for screenings to detect heart conditions that may develop in otherwise healthy women read more »
  • Bald Eagle viewing in winter

    Watching them can offer an exhilarating and memorable experience

    Winter is a great time to view bald eagles in New York State. Viewing from a safe distance and at established observation sites can offer an exhilarating and memorable experience. read more »
  • Yes, you can raise healthy, smart, kind kids in a screen-saturated world

    "The Mediatrician" helps guide parents on Safer Internet Day

    Raising children in a screen-saturated world elicits fear, hope, and questions from parents, educators, and healthcare providers. The best thing to happen this year on “Safer Internet Day,” is the launch of “The Mediatrician's Guide”, developed to deliver those critical answers. read more »
  • Looking for a new career?

    Become a financial planner

    Becoming a financial planner offers both financial rewards and the chance to help others. Whether you’re a recent graduate exploring your career path or a mid-career professional seeking change, this growing profession may be the right fit for you. read more »
  • How to prep the night before the SAT or ACT exam

    Calm your nerves and enter the testing site with confidence

    Taking the SAT or ACT exam is the culmination of months of test-specific preparation, and in truth, years of schooling. While knowing that can feel like a lot of pressure, there are steps you can take the night before the exam to calm your nerves and enter the testing site with confidence: read more »
  • 7 Valentine's Day date ideas to break from the norm

    Think outside the box this year

    If you’re feeling pressure to plan the perfect Valentine’s Day date, it may be time to veer away from tradition. While flowers, chocolates and dinner for two is a classic, thinking outside the box can make for just as romantic of an experience. read more »
  • Helping infants, toddlers and families thrive

    The child tax credit is a critical policy vehicle

    A bipartisan package that recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, would expand the child tax credit (CTC). As the Senate decides whether to follow suit, advocates press that the CTC is a critical policy vehicle to help all infants, toddlers and their families thrive, and it should be implemented as soon as possible. read more »
  • What to look for when you need a law firm

    Savvy advice from Best Lawyers

    Let’s face it, no person or business gets a thrill out of hiring a law firm. Fortunately, peer-reviewed rankings have simplified the process. read more »