At first, the most common COPD symptom you may experience is coughing. It may start as coughing every now and then, and may progress to persistent coughing with production of mucus.
A common ‘warning sign’ symptom of COPD is feeling breathless, especially after light activity like climbing a flight of stairs. This is the point where most people seek medical help. Without any treatment, this may progress to difficulty breathing which will affect your quality of life over time.
How fast does COPD progress?
The rate at which COPD progresses over time is difficult to predict and can vary on multiple factors such as your family history, your medical history and your lifestyle choices.
COPD may progress over several years with symptoms of:
Increased mucus production
shortness of breath
If you are frequently exposed to air pollutants like dust and toxic chemicals, or if you continue to smoke, your COPD symptoms may progress faster which may lead to a poor quality of life.
What are the signs that COPD is getting worse?
COPD will affect people differently, but in most it is a progressive disease which worsens over time. COPD has been grouped into 4 stages, from mild to very severe, based on symptoms and certain lung tests for breathing difficulties.
Most people tend to seek medical help, as their symptoms of coughing with mucus production and shortness of breath begin to worsen and happen more frequently. The 4 stages are outlined below and medical professionals refer to these as the e GOLD stages of COPD. What this indicates is how severe your COPD is.
You will usually know your stage after you have had lung function tests done but the table below will give you a rough idea according to your symptoms.
Grade 0 - Not troubled by breathlessness except on strenuous exercise
Grade 1 - Short of breath when hurrying or walking up a slight hill
Grade 2 - Walks slower than contemporaries on level ground because of breathlessness, or has to stop for breath when walking at own pace
Grade 3 - Stops for breath after walking about 100 metres or after a few minutes on level ground
Grade 4 - Too breathless to leave the house, or breathless when dressing or undressing
What factors contribute to COPD flare ups (exacerbation)?
Some people may experience a sudden worsening of their COPD symptoms compared to their usual symptoms. This is also known as a COPD ‘flare up’, ‘attack’ or ‘exacerbation.’ Some factors that make you at risk of an exacerbation of you COPD are:
bacterial or viral infections
COPD flare ups can become life threatening if not treated as soon as possible, with appropriate inhalers and antibiotics (if you have a chest infection).
Is COPD the same as smokers cough
A smoker’s cough is not always the same condition as COPD, but a smoker's cough can often be a sign of COPD or other diseases such as lung cancer, pneumonia and many other conditions.
A smoker’s cough is not a diagnosis and always needs to be investigated.
COPD, may be caused by long term smoking, but there are other causes.
The symptoms are often:
Increased mucus production
The cough is usually worse in the morning and may improve later in the day. You may also experience other symptoms like:
If you have chest pain or sudden onset of shortness of breath please call 999.
If you’ve had a cough for over 3 weeks, you should book an appointment with your doctor for further investigation.