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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

  • Alternative Names

    COPD; Chronic obstructive airways disease; Chronic obstructive lung disease; Chronic bronchitis; Emphysema; Bronchitis - chronic

    • Cough with mucus
    • Shortness of breath (dyspnea) that gets worse with mild activity
    • Fatigue
    • Frequent respiratory infections
    • Wheezing

    Since the symptoms of COPD develop slowly, some people may be unaware that they are sick.

    Signs and tests

    The best test for COPD is a simple lung function test called spirometry. This involves blowing out as hard as one can into a small machine that tests lung capacity. The test can be interpreted immediately and does not involve exercising, drawing blood, or exposure to radiation.

    Using a stethoscope to listen to the lungs can also be helpful, although sometimes the lungs sound normal even when COPD is present.

    Pictures of the lungs (such as X-rays and CT scans) can be helpful but sometimes look normal even when a person has COPD.

    Sometimes it is necessary to do a blood test (call a “blood gas”) to measure the amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.