Headaches and edema
3. Morning headaches
One of the more mysterious symptoms of COPD is waking up after a night's sleep with a dull, throbbing headache. "What's happening is that you're not breathing deeply enough at night, and the carbon dioxide builds up while you're sleeping," says physician Norman Edelman, chief medical officer for the American Lung Association. The buildup of carbon dioxide causes blood vessels in the brain to dilate, resulting in headaches.
Many people don't connect the headaches to COPD, though; instead they treat them as a separate symptom. But unless you treat the underlying cause -- making sure you get enough oxygen into your lungs while you sleep -- the headaches won't go away. Talk to your doctor about setting up a treatment regimen for COPD designed to reduce inflammation and increase the absorbent capacity of the lungs.
4. Swollen ankles
As COPD advances, it becomes intertwined with heart failure, because your circulatory system isn't getting the oxygen it needs to be healthy. This can lead to fluid buildup, which is most easily recognizable as swollen feet and ankles. "As lungs get progressively worse, the ability of the body to compensate goes down and the heart can't pump strongly enough," says Norman Edelman of the American Lung Association.
When the heart can't pump enough blood to supply the liver and kidneys, they can't perform their necessary functions of flushing out toxins and removing fluid. The result: the same type of edema many people experience while flying or women experience when pregnant.