COPD Symptoms

You might not have any symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) until it’s somewhat advanced.

One of the first things you may notice is that you become out of breath pretty easily. You might be tempted to brush it off as a sign of getting older. Don’t. Shortness of breath is never normal. See your doctor if it happens to you.

Make an appointment, too, if you have any of these other telltale signs of COPD:

  1. A cough that won’t go away
  2. Coughing up a lot of gunk (which doctors call “phlegm” or “sputum”)
  3. Wheezing
  4. Blue lips or fingernails
  5. Fatigue (extreme tiredness) most or all of the time
  6. Frequent colds
  7. Shortness of breath
  8. Losing weight without trying
  9. Swollen feet, ankles, or legs
  10. Having to clear your throat a lot
  11. Chest tightness

When to Call a Doctor

These symptoms can mean that you have an infection or your COPD is getting worse. Call your doctor within 24 hours if you notice:

  • You’re out of breath or coughing more than usual.
  • Being out of breath affects your daily routine.
  • You’re coughing up more gunk that normal.
  • The gunk is yellow, green, or rust-colored.
  • You have a fever over 101 F.
  • You feel dizzy or lightheaded.

Call 911 or go to the emergency room if you’re still out of breath after using the medicines your doctor has prescribed for your COPD.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on July 17, 2019



American Lung Association: “COPD Symptoms.” “COPD Symptoms, Causes and Risk Factors.”

Mayo Clinic: “COPD.”

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: “COPD.”

Mount Sinai West: “COPD.”

Cleveland Clinic: “When to Call the Doctor About Your COPD Symptoms.”

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