What Are the Symptoms of COPD?

A fellow caregiver asked...

What are the symptoms of COPD?

Expert Answer

Dr. Leslie Kernisan is the author of a popular blog and podcast at BetterHealthWhileAging.net. She is also a clinical instructor in the University of California, San Francisco, Division of Geriatrics.

People with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) usually notice some of these symptoms:

  • Some shortness of breath during exertion (the first symptom)
  • A chronic cough for several months of the year, especially one that produces large amounts of mucus (also known as "smoker's cough")
  • Occasional wheezing or whistling breathing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Shortness of breath even when at rest (in advanced cases)

The symptoms tend to start gradually, worsening as time passes. It may be years before everyday functioning is impaired.

It's important to realize, however, that these symptoms are also seen in many other diseases affecting the lungs or the heart. To know for sure whether someone has COPD (and not another condition such as asthma or a heart problem), it's necessary for a doctor to run lung function tests.