COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)

Symptoms of COPD

The symptoms of COPD include:

  • getting short of breath easily when you do everyday things such as going for a walk or doing housework
  • having a cough that lasts a long time
  • wheezing in cold weather
  • producing more sputum or phlegm than usual

You might get these symptoms all the time, or they might appear or get worse when you have an infection or breathe in smoke or fumes. 

If you have severe COPD, you can lose your appetite, lose weight and find that your ankles swell.

What’s the difference between COPD and asthma?

With COPD, your airways have become narrowed permanently – inhaled medication can help to open them up to some extent.

With asthma, the narrowing of your airways comes and goes, often when you’re exposed to a trigger – something that irritates your airways – such as tobacco smoke, dust or pollen. Inhaled medication can open your airways fully, prevent symptoms and relieve symptoms by relaxing your airways.

So, if your breathlessness and other symptoms are much better on some days than others, or if you often wake up in the night feeling wheezy, it’s more likely you have asthma.

Next: Diagnosing COPD >

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Last medically reviewed: September 2016. Due for review: September 2019

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.