Signs and symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a respiratory disorder that decreases the efficiency of air moving in and out of lungs. This causes difficulty in breathing. In COPD, the airway in the lung loses its normal shape and elasticity. COPD leads to many systemic problems as well. As per the COPD Foundation, COPD is an umbrella term that describes progressive lung diseases. It includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis, refractory (non-reversible) asthma, and some forms of bronchiectasis.

What Causes COPD?

  • Smoking
  • Genetic factors
  • Inhalation of Toxic substances.
  • Exposure to certain gases or fumes in the workplace
  • Exposure to heavy amounts of secondhand smoke and pollution
  • Frequent use of a cooking fire without proper ventilation
  • People who already have Asthma can also develop COPD


Emphysema occurs when small air sacs called “alveoli” becomes damaged. This, in turn, causes, lungs to become less efficient in getting oxygen out of the air. It also causes difficulty in getting rid of carbon dioxide. The alveoli lose their elasticity resulting in air trapped inside the lungs. Thus, the airway becomes “flabby” and does not push the air out. Old air gets trapped inside the air sacs, having no room for new air to get in. This, in turn, causes difficulty for the body to meet all oxygen needs, resulting in shortness of breath and a chronic cough.

Chronic Bronchitis:

This is an inflammation of the medium-sized airway. Physiologically, there is damage to cilia (small hair-like structures in a bronchial tube). This damage results in difficulty to get rid of mucus. This causes more mucus and more cough. It also causes swollen and clogged airways. This results in obstruction and increase in breathing difficulty.

A person will Complain of…

  • Ongoing cough. The cough usually produces mucus.
  • Shortness of breath. SOB increases with any physical activity.
  • Whistling or squeaky sound while breathing, (wheezing)
  • Tightness at chest.
  • Increase in HR
  • Blue or gray nails and lips
  • In severe cases, swelling of ankles, and feet, as well as weight loss and poor endurance.

How to Manage COPD:

A physical therapist plays a vital role in COPD management. A PT can help you with ;

  • Improve endurance
  • Improve physical activity while breathing
  • Help you with correct breathing exercises and energy conservation techniques.
  • Improve muscle strength and balance.

Medical management of COPD is based on clinical presentation and severity of the disease. A PCP can evaluate a patient and prescribe medication to improve alveolar dilation (bronchodilators). Medication can also be prescribed to reduce cough, to dry out the secretion.

In moderate to severe cases, a person may be prescribed to have oxygen at home. This can either be during the night time or throughout the day.


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NOTE: The contents of this blog are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, dietary supplement, exercise, or other health program.
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