©2018 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved. eMedicineHealth does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See Additional Information.

Symptoms and Signs of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): Symptoms and 4 Stages

Doctor's Notes on Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): Symptoms and 4 Stages

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease in which obstruction of the airways occurs and typically worsens over time, making it harder to breathe. Types of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease include chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and refractory (non-reversible) asthma. The most common cause of COPD is smoking. Other causes of COPD include secondhand smoke exposure, occupational exposures (for example, coal workers, welders, sensitized cotton and flour workers), untreated diseases that cause inflammation of the airways (for example, asthma), environmental exposures, and genetic conditions such as alpha-one antitrypsin deficiency.

Symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) include productive cough or chest cold (cough is usually worse in the morning and produces a small amount of colorless sputum), shortness of breath, wheezing, and frequent colds or pneumonia. As COPD progresses and worsens, symptoms include shorter intervals between acute periods of worsening shortness of breath, discoloration of the skin (cyanosis) and right side heart failure, loss of appetite, and weight loss.

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.