COPD Symptoms, Signs & Stages

What are the symptoms and stages of COPD?

copd symptoms, copd stages, copd signsChronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) affects your lungs, making it difficult to breathe. At the beginning, early signs of COPD may be mild, and may even go unnoticed. But over time, COPD symptoms tend to get worse.

COPD symptoms are slow to develop and vary depending on the stage of the disease. No two people will experience the exact same symptoms, but everyone with COPD will eventually notice that it is more difficult to participate in their everyday activities.

To measure the impact of COPD and assess which stage you’re experiencing, your doctor may give you a COPD assessment test to help diagnose and manage your unique symptoms. The COPD test involves breathing in and out of a machine called a spirometer. Your doctor then compares the results to what is expected from a person with healthy lungs, and measure the results according to various stages.

Stage One COPD Symptoms

In the beginning, mild COPD may present obvious symptoms. People often dismiss a cough or fatigue as a side effect of smoking or advancing age. In the early stage of the disease, your lungs are still functioning at or above 80 percent of normal lung capacity.

Stage Two COPD Symptoms

As the disease advances, the symptoms of COPD become more of an issue. Lungs are functioning between 50 and 80 percent of normal lung capacity. Signs of COPD at this stage usually involve a chronic cough. Coughing is the body’s way of naturally removing mucus from the lungs, but with COPD the urge to cough becomes more persistent. It may be worse in the morning, during exercise or when smoking. You may also wheeze, producing a whistling sound when you breathe as air is forced through obstructions in your airways.

Many people also experience shortness of breath during second stage COPD as airways become inflamed and constricted. This makes it hard to breathe normally, especially when you’re physically active. Even small tasks like bathing or getting dressed in the morning can cause shortness of breath. As a result, oxygen levels in your blood and muscles drop, increasing fatigue. In addition, you may feel tired because your lungs are working overtime to bring in more oxygen and release carbon dioxide.

Stage Three COPD Symptoms

At the third stage, your lungs are only functioning at between 30 and 50 percent of their normal capacity. More severe COPD signs and symptoms include feeling more fatigued and short of breath, and you may suffer frequent exacerbations. Exacerbations are flare-ups where COPD symptoms worsen and last longer, in some cases leading to hospitalization. COPD exacerbations can be caused by infections or air pollution.

Frequent respiratory infections are common with COPD sufferers because your lungs cannot clear themselves of irritants, bacteria and viruses. Many people with stage three COPD battle frequent bouts of bronchitis or pneumonia.

Stage Four or End Stage COPD Symptoms

The fourth stage of COPD is often referred to as end stage. While that sounds daunting, you can live with stage four COPD for years with proper care and a COPD treatment program prescribed by your doctor. Today’s medical and technological advancements can enhance quality of life while living with COPD symptoms.

At stage four, your lungs are functioning at less than 30 percent of their normal capacity. This stage presents the worst signs and symptoms of COPD, with COPD symptoms occurring even when you’re resting. People with end stage COPD may lose weight rapidly as the body uses extra energy and calories to bring in the oxygen it needs. Advanced COPD symptoms include morning headaches due to heightened levels of carbon dioxide in the blood and swollen feet due to the higher levels of stress placed on the heart.

Some symptoms of COPD are more severe and may require emergency medical attention if they last longer or become worse than usual. If your lips or fingernails turn blue, or it becomes difficult to speak or breathe for long periods of time, it could be a sign that the blood contains extremely low levels of oxygen. In addition, if you feel overly confused or have a rapid heartbeat, talk to your doctor as quickly as possible. The information presented here should give you a better understanding of different COPD stages.

View all of our Inogen One Systems   See what Inogen One customers are saying