The official blog of the Lung Institute.
People challenged with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have a legion of challenging symptoms to face each day. The decreased airflow caused by chronic lung disease makes breathing difficult. Emphysema destroys alveoli — the lungs’ tiny air sacs. During this process, holes form in the inner walls of the alveoli and damage the elasticity of the airways. Eventually, alveoli collapse and trap air in the lungs. In chronic bronchitis, the air passages of the lungs become inflamed, and the body produces excess mucus. Some of the most common COPD symptoms are shortness of breath, constant coughing, fatigue and chest tightness. COPD symptoms can be mild, moderate or severe, and they may cause significant anxiety. Here are some ideas for Reducing the Severity of COPD Disease Symptoms.
Many people with COPD experience chest tightness. Feeling anxious or worried can worsen chest tightness. Most people describe chest tightness in the following ways:
- A squeezing or crushing sensation in the chest.
- The chest feels stiff.
- A band is tightening around the chest.
- The feeling of pressure on the lungs keeps them from filling with air.
Often, chest tightness happens at the same time as shortness of breath or wheezing. Typically, chest tightness occurs because of an increase in mucus production in the lungs and the narrowing of the airways.
If you feel chest tightness and anxiety, try a relaxation technique. The belly breathing technique helps you stay calm and focus on your breathing. Try sitting in a comfortable chair and placing a hand on your chest. Next, put the other hand on your belly. Inhale slowly through your nose and focus on feeling your belly rise. Then, exhale slowly and repeat.
In general, fatigue is defined as exhaustion and lack of energy, and it is different from normal tiredness. People with COPD often experience fatigue. In fact, most people with COPD feel that fatigue can be as difficult to manage or debilitating as shortness of breath.
COPD fatigue occurs for many reasons, such as depression, reduced ability to exercise, decreased quality of life and progression of COPD. Some studies have linked fatigue with reduced time spent outside, frequent COPD flare-ups, as well as the following:
- A change in weight or muscle mass
- Hypoxemia (low blood oxygen levels)
- Decrease in endurance or strength
- Decline in cognition
- Recurrent respiratory infections
Coping with fatigue presents daily challenges. However, there are steps you can take to gain more energy.
Exercising consistently and eating a balanced diet can have significant positive effects on your overall energy. This includes gentle exercises such as walking and Tai Chi. When you exercise, you help your body stay strong and flexible. Getting your blood moving helps your body make more efficient use of the oxygen, fluids and nutrients it needs.
Keeping your mind engaged and active also helps with fatigue. When you’re busy doing something, your mind must think about the activity at hand. Many people with COPD become housebound because of their symptoms. Try a new craft, read your favorite book, put together a puzzle or invite a friend over for tea. Soon, you’ll be busy thinking about what you’re doing rather than about how tired you feel.
Another common chronic obstructive pulmonary disease symptom is constant coughing. For many people, constant coughing becomes embarrassing and worsens as COPD progresses. Constant coughing often occurs because of irritation and mucus inside of the lungs. Many people find coughing disruptive, especially when they are trying to fall asleep.
While coughing becomes annoying and uncomfortable, it can actually help. Deep coughing can clear mucus clogging your airways and allow you to breathe more easily. Some doctors teach their patients how to cough and effectively clear their airways.
Talk with your doctor before trying any coughing techniques.
Shortness of Breath
Shortness of breath is a common COPD symptom and one of the most frustrating. Also known as breathlessness or dyspnea, shortness of breath makes people feel like they cannot get enough oxygen into their lungs. In the mild and moderate COPD stages, shortness of breath may happen during physical activity. As COPD progresses, breathlessness increases in severity and may occur while at rest.
It’s normal for people to avoid the activities that make them feel breathless. However, exercise can reduce the frequency and severity of breathlessness. Exercise increases stamina and strength as well. Even walking short distances a few times a day can have a big impact on your overall quality of life. Ask your doctor about what types of exercise would work best for you.
Some doctors recommend their patients see a respiratory therapist to learn how to breathe more efficiently. Respiratory therapists can teach you how to preserve your breath during activity and how to regain your breath when you feel short of breath.
Additional COPD Symptoms
As a disease that is different to each individual, COPD can be affected by genetic history, smoking habits, living conditions, diet and exercise, and exposure to poor air quality. Any and all of these factors can affect the pronouncement and manifestation of symptoms. People living with COPD can expect:
- Shortness of breath, especially during physical activities
- Chronic cough
- Chest tightness
- Excess mucus build-up
- Blueness of the lips and fingernail beds
- Frequent respiratory infections
- Unintended weight loss (in later stages)
- Swelling in ankles, feet or legs
Reducing the Severity of COPD Disease Symptoms
When these symptoms occur, many people feel sudden anxiety. While it’s completely normal to feel anxious about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease symptoms, following the simple steps we mention above may help you stay calm and breathe easier. You and your doctor will work together to develop a COPD treatment plan that is individualized to your needs. Doctors often prescribe medications such as bronchodilators, corticosteroids and inhalers to reduce inflammation and open the airways.
Some people have seen improvements in their ability to breathe, stamina and overall quality of life after trying stem cell treatment for COPD. Stem cell treatment works to promote healing from within the lungs. In fact, many patients have become more active and reduced their oxygen therapy use after treatment. If you or a loved one has COPD, emphysema, chronic bronchitis or another chronic lung disease and would like to learn more about treatment options, contact us at (800) 729-3065.