COPD Symptoms

Last Updated: April 28, 2022

COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It is a chronic disease of the lungs that involves airway damage and blockage that worsens over time. The progressively worsening airway blockage causes the main symptoms of COPD: difficulty breathing, cough, and mucus production. While the most common cause of COPD is smoking, other causes can include significant exposure to air pollutants, frequent respiratory infections, and untreated asthma. Standard COPD treatments include use of specific inhalers to relax and open up the airways.

What is COPD?

COPD is a chronic condition which occurs due irreversible damage to the lungs. Common symptoms include trouble breathing, wheezing, cough, and mucus production.[1] Normal lungs have many small stretchy air sacs that inflate upon inhalation and deflate upon exhalation. With COPD, less air can enter the lungs because air sacs have damaged walls and are less stretchy (this is called emphysema); and the airway becomes inflamed triggering cough and more mucus production (this is called chronic bronchitis). Most people have a COPD with both emphysema and chronic bronchitis, with variable severity.[2]

What are the main signs and symptoms of COPD?

Symptoms of COPD vary depending on the severity of the disease. The most common symptoms include shortness of breath and wheezing, chronic cough (often with mucus), and fatigue. COPD is often associated with frequent infections of the airways and sometimes with a blue tint of lips or fingernails (due to a lack of oxygen).[1]

How is COPD diagnosed?

COPD is initially suspected when people present with long-term difficulty breathing and cough along with a risk factor such as smoking or exposure to pollution.[1] Healthcare providers diagnose COPD based on signs and symptoms, personal and family medical histories, and also test results (lung tests, imaging and blood tests).[2] Talk to your healthcare provider if you think you have COPD, do not self-diagnose.

What are some of the main medical treatments for COPD?

After COPD is diagnosed, the mainstay of treatment includes stopping smoking (if currently smoking) and the use of inhalers (bronchodilators) to manage symptoms and prevent exacerbations. The types of inhalers and their frequency of use depends on the individual person’s severity of symptoms and number of exacerbations.[1]

Have any supplements been studied for COPD?

Not many supplements have been studied for COPD, and there’s no strong evidence that those that have been studied definitely help. Beetroot juice, Chlorella, honey, and black seed (Nigella sativa) oil are examples of supplements that have been studied for COPD.[3]

What's the connection between diet and COPD?

A diet high in antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables has been associated with a lower risk of developing COPD, though it is unclear if this diet will help to manage symptoms. COPD is associated with worsened outcomes in malnourished individuals, such as muscle wasting and reduced exercise capacity, which leads to worsened quality of life and increased mortality risk, so it is especially important to maintain a healthy diet in those with COPD. Therefore, it is especially important to maintain a healthy and balanced diet in those with COPD.[3]

Are there any other treatments for COPD?

Exercise is typically recommended to better manage COPD symptoms and progression. It seems that the type of exercise doesn’t matter as much as sticking to a regular exercise program. [4] [5]

What causes COPD?

COPD is usually caused long-term exposure to irritants that damage your lungs and airways. In the US, cigarette smoke is the main cause. Inhaling other types of smoke (pipe, cigar, biomass fuel, etc), pollution, and chemical fumes can also cause COPD. Also, some people have a genetic condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency which makes them more likely to sustain lung damage from pollution and smoke and sometimes lead to early-onset COPD.[2]

Examine Database: COPD Symptoms
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  1. ^Shari Gentry, Barry GentryChronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: Diagnosis and ManagementAm Fam Physician.(2017 Apr 1)
  2. ^The content of this page was partially adapted from MedlinePlus of the National Library of Medicine
  3. ^Einar Furulund, Mitra Bemanian, Nina Berggren, Tesfaye Madebo, Sara Hydle Rivedal, Torgeir Gilje Lid, Lars Thore FadnesEffects of Nutritional Interventions in Individuals with Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled TrialsInt J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis.(2021 Nov 17)
  4. ^Bernard McCarthy, Dympna Casey, Declan Devane, Kathy Murphy, Edel Murphy, Yves LacassePulmonary rehabilitation for chronic obstructive pulmonary diseaseCochrane Database Syst Rev.(2015 Feb 23)
  5. ^Renae J McNamara, Zoe J McKeough, David K McKenzie, Jennifer A AlisonWater-based exercise training for chronic obstructive pulmonary diseaseCochrane Database Syst Rev.(2013 Dec 18)
Examine Database References
  1. Creatine - Deacon SJ, Vincent EE, Greenhaff PL, Fox J, Steiner MC, Singh SJ, Morgan MDRandomized controlled trial of dietary creatine as an adjunct therapy to physical training in chronic obstructive pulmonary diseaseAm J Respir Crit Care Med.(2008 Aug 1)
  2. Creatine - Fuld JP, Kilduff LP, Neder JA, Pitsiladis Y, Lean ME, Ward SA, Cotton MMCreatine supplementation during pulmonary rehabilitation in chronic obstructive pulmonary diseaseThorax.(2005 Jul)
  3. Creatine - Faager G, Söderlund K, Sköld CM, Rundgren S, Tollbäck A, Jakobsson PCreatine supplementation and physical training in patients with COPD: a double blind, placebo-controlled studyInt J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis.(2006)
  4. N-Acetylcysteine - van Overveld FJ, Demkow U, Górecka D, de Backer WA, Zielinski JNew developments in the treatment of COPD: comparing the effects of inhaled corticosteroids and N-acetylcysteineJ Physiol Pharmacol.(2005 Sep)
  5. Vitamin D - Martineau AR, Jolliffe DA, Greenberg L, Aloia JF, Bergman P, Dubnov-Raz G, Esposito S, Ganmaa D, Ginde AA, Goodall EC, Grant CC, Janssens W, Jensen ME, Kerley CP, Laaksi I, Manaseki-Holland S, Mauger D, Murdoch DR, Neale R, Rees JR, Simpson S, Stelmach I, Trilok Kumar G, Urashima M, Camargo CA, Griffiths CJ, Hooper RLVitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory infections: individual participant data meta-analysisHealth Technol Assess.(2019 Jan)
  6. N-Acetylcysteine - Peter N Black, Althea Morgan-Day, Tracey E McMillan, Phillippa J Poole and Robert P YoungRandomised, controlled trial of N-acetylcysteine for treatment of acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary diseasePulmonary Medicine.()
  7. L-Carnitine - A Borghi-Silva, V Baldissera, L M M Sampaio, V A Pires-DiLorenzo, M Jamami, A Demonte, J S Marchini, D CostaL-carnitine as an ergogenic aid for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease submitted to whole-body and respiratory muscle training programsBraz J Med Biol Res.(2006 Apr)
  8. N-Acetylcysteine - Decramer M, Rutten-van Mölken M, Dekhuijzen PN, Troosters T, van Herwaarden C, Pellegrino R, van Schayck CP, Olivieri D, Del Donno M, De Backer W, Lankhorst I, Ardia AEffects of N-acetylcysteine on outcomes in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (Bronchitis Randomized on NAC Cost-Utility Study, BRONCUS): a randomised placebo-controlled trialLancet.(2005 Apr 30-May 6)
  9. N-Acetylcysteine - De Benedetto F, Aceto A, Dragani B, Spacone A, Formisano S, Pela R, Donner CF, Sanguinetti CMLong-term oral n-acetylcysteine reduces exhaled hydrogen peroxide in stable COPDPulm Pharmacol Ther.(2005)
  10. N-Acetylcysteine - Jiang C, Zou J, Lv Q, Yang YSystematic review and meta-analysis of the efficacy of N-acetylcysteine in the treatment of acute exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.Ann Palliat Med.(2021-Jun)
  11. N-Acetylcysteine - Huang C, Kuo S, Lin L, Yang YThe efficacy of -acetylcysteine in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients: a meta-analysis.Ther Adv Respir Dis.(2023)