The signs of COPD are varied and sometimes subtle – so subtle, that they can go on for several years without being noticed. These signs could also be early warning signs for other health problems, or could be something much less severe. In any case, you should pay attention to your body, so you can note any changes, no matter how seemingly insignificant. Catching a chronic illness in it's earliest stages can save you a lot of physical and mental stress later on, as well as keep your medical bills down.
The earliest signs of COPD will differ from person to person, but they are generally...
• A drastic drop or increase in body weight and decrease in strength over a somewhat short period of time.
• Lack of energy and fatigue most of the time.
• Swollen ankles without any other explanation.
• Finding that you need to sit up to sleep, or use more pillows to elevate yourself while sleeping. If you lie flat, it becomes hard for you to breathe.
• You develop a cough though you aren't sick, with sputum (a mix of spit and mucus from the lungs) that is thick and increases in thickness.
• A cough with sputum that is a color other than clear or yellowish, without being sick.
If you are a smoker, you should definitely be looking out for these warnings signs, and seriously consider quitting to keep the disease from getting worse. If you don't smoke but are around a lot of secondhand smoke or pollution, try to get yourself out of these situations as much as you can. If you have a cough and you aren't sick, don't start taking a cough suppressant, as this will make you worse instead of get rid of the problem. Your body needs to cough to expel mucus. If you want to take something, talk to your doctor about taking something that will thin the mucus, which will make it easier to cough up.
Set up an appointment with your doctor to discuss these concerns. He will examine you and have you undergo some tests and chest x-rays. A chest x-ray will help your doctor distinguish whether you have COPD, lung cancer, or a just a bad chest cold. You may also have to get a CT scan, which is like a more three dimensional x-ray that would help your doctor decide if you would benefit from surgery for emphysema.
He may also have you do some lung function tests, which gauge your lung capacity and measure the pace at which the air is inhaled and exhaled. These tests will help determine just how bad the COPD is at the time. You will most like use a Spirometer. You would breathe into a mouthpiece, which is attached to the Spirometer computer. Your breathing results will show up in a graph. The graph might compare your results to that of someone with healthy lungs to see if there is a major gap.
What Happens Next?
You will be prescribed with a medication, such as an inhaler to take every day, and a rescue inhaler that you should only take when you need it. You might also be prescribed oxygen therapy or need to use a nebulizer machine on a regular basis.