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The early signs of COPD include:

  • Shortness of breath with exertion
  • A productive cough
  • Frequent respiratory infections

Once COPD has been diagnosed, recognizing worsening signs and symptoms is an important part of managing your illness so that treatment, which will preserve lung function in the long term, can begin quickly. Accurate and timely assessment of symptoms also can help healthcare providers determine whether treatment should begin at home, the physician's office, or the emergency room.

You are the best person to recognize early warning signs. However, some changes are more likely to be noticed by other people, so it is important to show family members and those close to you the following list.

  • Increase or decrease in sputum production
  • Sputum color change to yellow, green, or reddish
  • Increase in shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing
  • General feeling of ill health
  • Ankle swelling
  • Forgetfulness, confusion, speech slurring
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Unexplained increase or decrease in weight
  • Increased, persistent fatigue
  • Lack of sexual drive
  • Increased morning headaches, dizzy spells, restlessness

When to call the doctor

Call immediately if:

  • You are having a lot of trouble breathing, or you suddenly are unable to speak in complete sentences.
  • You are confused, or are slurring your speech, or feel like you are going to faint.
  • You cannot be easily awakened by others or you feel very weak.
  • You have blood in your sputum or develop a fever above 101 degrees or have shaking chills.

Call within six to eight hours if shortness of breath is mild to moderate or wheezing does not stop or decrease with inhaled bronchodilator treatments one hour apart.

Call within 24 hours if you notice one or more of the following severe respiratory symptoms:

  • Change in color, thickness, odor, or amount of sputum that persists.
  • Ankle swelling that lasts even after a night of sleeping with your feet up.
  • You awaken short of breath more than once a night.
  • Increased fatigue that lasts more than one day.

Last reviewed on 11/9/09

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