When to Seek Help for COPD

Health Professional

When you have COPD, your body sends off signals when things aren't right inside you. If you experience any of these, it's time to seek medical help.

Cyanosis.  A gray or bluish tinge on your fingertips or lips is a sign that your oxygen level in your blood is low.

Anxiety.  When your body craves oxygen, or when you can't catch your breath, it's normal to feel anxious or panicked.  Yet this may cause your body to become increasingly tense, making matters worse.

Cough.  Coughing more than usual may be a sign a flare-up is oncoming or ongoing.

Sputum.  Coughing that produces abnormally large amounts of sputum.  Or, coughing up sputum that is a different color than usual, such as yellow, brown, green or red (blood tinged).

Dyspnea.  You are more short of breath than usual or cannot catch your breath even with rest.

Paradoxical breathing.  Your shoulders are abnormally hunched to breathe. Your stomach goes in when you inhale, instead of out.  Your chest moves upward when you inhale, perhaps revealing ribs.

Rescue Medicine.  You find yourself needing or using your rescue medicine -- albuterol, xopenex -- more frequently than normal.

Edema.  New or worsening swelling in your ankles, legs, or abdomen is a sign your body is retaining fluid. There are different things that could cause this, such as heart failure.

Taciturn.  You find that you are unable to talk, or you are only able to talk in short, choppy sentences. This is a common sign when you can't catch your breath.

Leaning.  You find you must lean on things such as tables and chairs to breathe.

Exertion.  You find you are unable to walk, or get abnormally winded when walking.  You find you have to lean on things to breathe while walking.  You find you have to rest more than usual to catch your breath after exerting yourself. Rest after exertion does not help you catch your breath.

Activities.  You find you are unable to do things you normally do, such as brushing your teeth or eating.

Adventitious noises.  You hear abnormal noises when you are breathing, such as wheezing or gurgling. An audible wheeze or rhonchi  is the sound of air moving through obstructed or secretion filled airways. It may be due to worsening bronchitis, or it may be due to heart complications.

Orthopnea.  You must sit up to breathe.  You must sit in a reclined position (recliner) to sleep.

Insomnia. You have difficulty or are unable to sleep due to anxiety about your breathing. You simply cannot get into a comfortable sleeping position due to your breathing.

Angina. You're experiencing chest pain.  This may be a sign of heart trouble, or it may also be a sign you are working harder to breathe than normal.  It may be a sign of pneumonia.  It's common to have chest pain when you are using your accessory muscles to breathe. Accessory muscles are those of muscles you only use when you are having trouble breathing (see paradoxical breathing above).

It's always a good idea to pay close attention to what your body is saying.  By being vigilant, and seeking help early, you can prevent your COPD from getting worse.