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Symptoms of COPD often do not appear until the lungs have already been significantly damaged. These symptoms usually become more severe as COPD progresses. It is common for people with COPD to experience periods during which their symptoms become worse. These episodes are called exacerbations and generally last for several days.

Risk Factors

The primary risk factor for COPD is smoking. A majority of people who have COPD either currently smoke or used to smoke. Other COPD risk factors include:

  • Family history of COPD
  • Long-term exposure to other lung irritants, such as air pollution, chemical fumes, or dust
  • Being over 40 years of age

The most common symptoms of COPD are:

  • A persistent cough or a cough that produces a lot of mucus
  • Shortness of breath, particularly during physical activity
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • The need to clear your throat first thing in the morning due to excess mucus in the lungs
  • Blueness of the lips or fingernail beds
  • Low energy
  • Frequent respiratory infections

Advanced Symptoms

Severe or advanced COPD can cause other symptoms, such as:

  • Swelling in the ankles, feet, or legs
  • Lower muscular endurance
  • Unintended weight loss

Some of these more serious symptoms may require treatment in a hospital. You should seek emergency assistance if:

  • You are having a hard time catching your breath or talking
  • Your lips or fingernails turn blue or gray
  • You feel foggy or are not mentally alert
  • Your heartbeat is very fast
  • Treatment you have been prescribed for worsening symptoms is not working