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What Is a COPD Exacerbation Flare, and What Are Its Symptoms?

14 answers | Last updated: Apr 07, 2015
Caring.com User - Leslie Kernisan, M.D.
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Dr. Leslie Kernisan is a senior medical editor at Caring.com and a clinical instructor in the University of California, San Francisco, Division of Geriatrics....
98% helpful

A chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbation flare is an increase in the usual severity of symptoms of COPD.

The signs of a flare-up are a worsening of whatever the See also:
What Is COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)?

See all 329 questions about COPD
person's usual COPD symptoms are. These may include:

  • An increase in frequency and severity of coughing.
  • Increased production of phlegm (sputum or mucus) when coughing.
  • A change in the appearance of the phlegm.
  • Increased shortness of breath.

One should always seek prompt medical evaluation for signs of a COPD exacerbation flare. Without treatment, people may experience life-threatening breathing problems. If someone with COPD seems extremely short of breath or passes out, call 911 right away.

Some COPD exacerbations require treatment in the hospital for a few days, while others can be safely treated in an outpatient setting. In severe cases, people with COPD exacerbations may need to be on a ventilator, or breathing machine, until their flare-up resolves.

More than half of exacerbation flares are caused by an infection in the lungs or airways, either viral or bacterial. Another 10 percent are triggered by air pollution. In 30 to 40 percent of cases, though, the cause can't be pinpointed.

In addition, many other conditions affecting the heart and lungs share the symptoms of a COPD exacerbation flare. These include heart attacks, blood clots in the lungs, or heart failure. That's another reason it's always important to get an evaluation when anyone's COPD symptoms seem acutely worse.


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75% helpful
charliesangel answered...

my husband has had a few flare ups that they diagnosed as exacerbated COPD and he is hospotilized and given aggressive antiobiodics. once he had ro be intubated and than bek God came out of it. I wonder though if they can treat him at home with the liquid antiobiodics when that happens instead of continuously taking him to ER because he gets very upset and stressed at having to go through the emergency room procedure and he gets worked up and impatient and starts getting anxious and stressed out which is not good for a diabetic, yes he has diabetes also..


73% helpful
Sandie66 answered...

I was just recently Diagnosed with COPD and this is very shocking to me i was hospitalized with an exacerbated flare of COPD so i guess i have had it for a while. i was in the hospital for 2 weeks and was on oxygen the whole time so now i am looking into this disease and it scares me. I am only 43 years old.


80% helpful
jandayan6 answered...

sandie66 I was diagnozed with copd when I was about 35. I,m now 73. It has not been easy. I have huffed and puffed everywher i go. Take the medicine and insure you do only what your able to do


67% helpful
sandymccollum answered...

I am 52, was 45 when diagnosed with lung cancer and given 6 months to live. They told me I have COPD as a result, after having one lung removed. It was like they told me I have the flu - go home, rest, and here's an albuterol inhaler. Never told me it is fatal, never told me there are stages, just that it's what I have and sent me home. Maybe it was because I had the time limit on life, don't know, but they should have told me more, this disease is fatal!!


100% helpful
Justthinking answered...

My heart goes out to all of you. COPD is a tough diagnosis. And everyone responds differently. When my mother was first diagnosed, she didn't want to know too much about it. Her doctor's would answer her questions when asked but no more. She never really wanted to know how long she had or what to expect in the final stages. Nor did she want me to know.

Other people are very comforted by knowing what to expect. If you are one of these people, keeping asking and insisting that your questions are answered until you are satisfied. There is no right or wrong way to handle this disease. Each person has to do what they think is best for them. Take care.


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Gianne33 answered...

I understand what you are all going through because I too live with COPD. Two years I had a very bad case of pneumonia, was hospitalized, never fully cured and ended up with this disease due to mismanagement. I would definitely recommend that if you have repetative continuous flare ups go in a see a speciatist and get a solid base line as to where you are now. This may mean a test or two but they are worth it to be treated properly and it may mean added years to your life. This can also cause heart problems which they often do not tell you. All information that you can read about is a plus but each of us is affected differently and it is critical that you get to a Physician that will explain and discuss your health with you, if he/she does not, Please find a different Doctor who will actively help you and answer all your questions. There are new treatment proticols being tried today with antibiotics if you have a lot of flare ups, ask about them!! God Bless!


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An anonymous caregiver answered...

I am 65 and smoked for 50 years. My GP just diagnosed me with COPD, gave me Spiriva and sent me home. I have found out everything about the condition from the Net. I have also had pneumonia several times and I have a history of childhood asthma and chest infections.


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An anonymous caregiver answered...

I am caring for my Mother-in-law who had stage 4 lung cancer 12 years ago and had a 1/4 of one of her lungs removed. She was diagnosed with COPD 5 years ago and put on 3 liters of oxygen 3 years ago. Now she is in her late 70's and on 9 liters of oxygen. The reason I am stating this is because she is doing extremely well. She excercises at the YMCA twice a week and then on her own at home. It is vital that a person with COPD excercise to stregthen the muscles around their lungs. Walking is also very important. I am so proud of her for staying as active as she can and improving the quality of her life as well as mine since I am the caregiver. So if you have COPD or are caring for someone with COPD and the Dr. wants them to excercise. It is vitally important.


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Barb in WA answered...

I was diagnosed with COPD 10 years ago (chronic bronchitis AND emphesyma). Have been on Spiriva once a day and Advair twice a day for almost all that time. Dr. tried out something different in the beginning, but these two seem to be doing the job. Very very seldom need to use a rescue inhaler. Two years ago I did get pneumonia (even though I'd had the shot already) and it knocked me down for almost a year . . . on oxygen 24/7 at 4 liters, then 3. Now I'm only needing O2 at night at 1 liter. It's important to do exercising as was mentioned above to help keep your legs and torso strong. The less strain you put on your lungs and heart the better. I have great days, good days and some bad days, but feel so blessed that I'm still doing as well after 10 years. My mother had COPD and back then there was only rescue inhalers like albuterol which certainly isn't as good as the modern inhalers they have now. She died 7 years after her diagnosis; I'm still in what they call the 'moderate stage' after 10 years. I'll be 76 in 3 months and looks like I'll still be celebrating birthdays for quite a few more years yet.


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Denise P answered...

I just turned 60 ,and 2 years ago I found out I had copd by looking at the Lab sheet for blood work,,It was on the code,, My Dr. not once mentioned it to me.. I had a bad flare up when I got the flu at Christmas, went though antibiotics,and steroids.. here it is Jan 22nd 2015 ,and I am still not well..I was never told anything about stages either..like some of you,learning on my own..Very depressed about it tonight. I love life,and want to live. I really have no one to discuss this with,Glad I can at least get it off my chest right now by writing. I try to stay active,ride my Harley along side my hubby.. I really don't know where to go from here..Diabetic also. High BP, and Thyroid .. Just someone to talk to about this would be nice,,Who understands..


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An anonymous caregiver answered...

Hey Denise, I'm so sorry to hear that no one ever told you about your own COPD... That is insane! Same thing w/my mom- we knew, of course she had cancer, but no one bothered to tell us she was within days of death. NOT one medical professional mentioned it. They would look at the chart then look at each other and I was wondering why. But- listen I've got COPD also and bad asthma (i think anyway). I've been sick for months now- with some kind of hellish cold i can't seem to shake. It's not bad nuff to be locked in bed, but i am totally drained and its all i can do to get up and go to bathroom / kitchen. I'm only 49 and feel like something else is going on here. Wondering if oxygen would help me.... any thoughts ??


NinaG answered...

I have learned some of the meds can actually cause a predisposition to pneumonia. I don't understand how. But, reading the side effects, teeny tiny print, I noticed Spiriva was one such drug. After using it for more than a year, I began having episodes--of lack of oxygen, being hospitalized. It took a while to get breathing medications and hormones balanced--potassium, Lasix, thyroxin (had cancer, thyroid removed). Another inhaler caused such sever muscle cramps, I would wake up with muscle spasms ---in pain, with my body tied like a pretzel.

I'm just trying to say be aware of what you are taking. And, if your body begins doing things it didn't use to do, check your meds.

My family Dr. also didn't clue me in. Only after a stint in the hospital and the Lung Dr. came to check on me, I finally received some answers.


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