7 Warning Signs Your COPD Is Getting Worse

pulmonary rehabilitation for COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is one of the leading causes of death in the US. Around 16 million Americans suffer from this condition, where wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath become part and parcel of everyday life.

COPD is a lung disease that varies in symptoms based on its early, moderate, and severe stages. It’s impossible to ignore symptoms of severe COPD, mainly because you experience shortness of breath while getting up from the sofa or walking slowly. But in early COPD, people often dismiss some of their symptoms due to natural aging.

So when to pay attention to your symptoms and take them seriously?
We have prepared a checklist of seven warning signs that could mean that your COPD is worsening. If you experience any of these and haven’t joined a program for pulmonary rehabilitation for COPD, we suggest you do it immediately to access resources to help manage your condition better.

1. If You Experience An Increase in Shortness of Breath

One clear sign that your COPD is progressing, you need to pay close attention to your breathing. Worsening shortness of breath is a tell-tell sign that your condition is getting severe.

If you find it difficult to walk on a slight incline or climb a few stairs, you need to talk to your healthcare provider about it. If the breathlessness is relatively mild, your doctor can help you manage the symptoms by adding medicines or increasing the dose of your medications. If it worsens, you may need to visit the emergency room for hospitalization.

2. If You See Changes in Phlegm

Due to exacerbations, there could be a rise in the amount of phlegm produced by the body, and you may also notice a color change, from clear to green or yellow. The American Thoracic Society believes that changes in phlegm are one of the early signs that COPD may worsen. A change in its color could indicate some lung infection that needs medical attention.

3. If Your Wheezing Gets Worse

When the airway becomes narrow, it can cause wheezing in people with COPD. It is typically a high-pitched whistling noise that you hear while breathing. If you feel like your wheezing is getting worse, it could indicate an exacerbation.

Wheezing that becomes more pronounced too soon and stays consistent would need medical attention immediately. Everyone with COPD will not experience wheezing. According to a study published in the International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease in 2015, around 38 percent of individuals with COPD experience wheezing. Often wheezing means COPD symptoms have worsened, which would mean deteriorating lung function and more exacerbations.

4. If You Experience Muscle Weakness and Fatigue

Feeling tired is normal for people who have COPD. Because the body works harder to breathe compared to other people who don’t have this condition, it wears the body down. However, if the weakness seems to be worsening, it could indicate the progression of COPD.

Fatigue is also a result of inflammation that may leak out to the rest of the body, leading to muscle weakness. Hence, experiencing it would be a warning sign, which may require a doctor’s expert opinion.

5. If You Develop Edema

When you have severe COPD, you may develop Edema that makes your legs, feet, and ankles swell up. You may also experience some weight gain due to fluid retention. The swelling results from pulmonary hypertension due to the combined effect of high pressure on lung vessels, less oxygen, and inflammation. Because pulmonary hypertension positively correlates with low life expectancy, you need to talk to your doctor if you develop Edema.

6. If Your Cough Gets Worse

If you experience a new onset of cough or witness a worsening cough that’s persistent for a couple of weeks. In that case it needs to be checked immediately by a doctor. Typically, a chest x-ray will show how worse the COPD has gotten and if the chest pain or increased cough results from some other health condition, often associated with the heart.

7. If You Feel Disoriented After Waking Up

When COPD advances, people have low oxygen levels at night, making them feel dizzy or tired after waking up.

According to the American Thoracic Society, lack of oxygen could indicate severe COPD. However, it’s also a common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea. COPD and sleep apnea tend to occur together, so sleep apnea must be treated soon to avoid further exacerbations.

Wrapping Up

Life with COPD is not easy, but it can be managed effectively and lead a decent life. Join a Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Program to learn more about your condition and access resources such as exercise training, support, and counseling to help minimize the risk of worsening your COPD.

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