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COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) - When to Call a Doctor

Call 911 or other emergency services now if:

Call your doctor immediately or go to the emergency room if you have been diagnosed with COPD and you:

Recommended Related to COPD

11 Breathing Tips for People With COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, affects more than 12 million American adults. The term COPD includes two types of lung conditions: emphysema and bronchitis. Many people diagnosed with COPD have both emphysema and bronchitis. Together, the two reduce the amount of oxygen exchange in the lungs and thicken the lining of the airways. COPD is progressive and causes shortness of breath, wheezing, and chronic cough -- a persistent, phlegm-producing cough.  People with COPD can have varying...

Read the 11 Breathing Tips for People With COPD article > >

  • Cough up 0.5 cup (120 mL) or more of blood.
  • Have shortness of breath or wheezing that is quickly getting worse.
  • Start having new chest pain.
  • Are coughing more deeply or more often, especially if you notice an increase in mucus (sputum) or a change in the color of the mucus you cough up.
  • Have increased swelling in your legs or belly.
  • Have a high fever [over 101°F (38.3°C)].
  • Develop flu-like symptoms.

If your symptoms (cough, mucus, and/or shortness of breath) suddenly get worse and stay worse, you may be having a COPD flare-up, or exacerbation. Quick treatment for a flare-up may help keep you out of the hospital.

Call your doctor soon for an appointment if:

  • Your medicine is not working as well as it had been.
  • Your symptoms are slowly getting worse, and you have not seen a doctor recently.
  • You have a cold and:
    • Your fever lasts longer than 2 to 3 days.
    • Breathlessness occurs or becomes noticeably worse.
    • Your cough gets worse or lasts longer than 7 to 10 days.
  • You have not been diagnosed with COPD but are having symptoms. A history of smoking (even in the past) greatly increases the likelihood that symptoms are from COPD.
  • You cough up any amount of blood.

Talk to your doctor

If you have been diagnosed with COPD, talk with your doctor at your next regular appointment about:

Who to see

Health professionals who can diagnose COPD and provide a basic treatment plan include:

You may need to see a specialist in lung disease, called a pulmonologist (say "pull-muh-NAWL-uh-jist"), if:

  • Your diagnosis of COPD is uncertain or hard to make because you have diseases with similar symptoms.
  • You have unusual symptoms that are not usually seen in people with COPD.
  • You are younger than 50 and/or have no history or a short history of cigarette smoking.
  • You have to go to the hospital often because of sudden increases in shortness of breath.
  • You need long-term oxygen therapy or corticosteroid therapy.
  • You and your doctor are considering surgery, such as a lung transplant or lung volume reduction.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 16, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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