Last Updated on Mar 24, 2018

Symptoms and Signs of COPD

Patients with COPD suffer from symptoms like cough, sputum production and breathlessness.

Patients may suffer from symptoms for months or years before visiting the doctor. Symptoms of COPD may be mild, moderate, severe or very severe. These are:

  • Cough: The patient often suffers from cough for a long duration. The cough is accompanied by sputum production.
  • Sputum or mucus production: The cough is usually accompanied by large amounts of sputum production
  • Breathlessness on exertion: The patient may have to put an increased effort to breathe, or may gasp at times. The patient may find it difficult to do tasks that require lifting of the arm at or above the shoulder level for a long time. Breathing may be accompanied by wheezing. As the patient worsens, he may suffer from breathlessness while doing simple activities or even at rest
  • The patient may suffer from attacks of increased cough with altered sputum and breathlessness. He/ She may also have fever, body ache and sore throat during these attacks. The attacks occur more often as the COPD worsens. They may be caused by bacterial and viral infections
  • On examination, the patient may have a barrel shaped chest due to lung expansion. He/ She may use additional muscles like those in the neck while breathing. Lips and nails may appear blue due to lack of oxygen. The physician may hear abnormal sounds with a stethoscope placed on the chest
  • The patient may show weight loss
  • The patient may show symptoms of heart failure in the later stages, though this is relatively uncommon nowadays


  1. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine 17th edition
  2. Ján Tkác, S. F. Paul Man and Don D. Sin. Systemic consequences of COPD. Ther Adv Respir Dis (2007) 1(1) 47–59.

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