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Signs, Symptoms, and Causes of COPD

older woman in red shirt smiling at camera

A COPD diagnosis often surprises people. It might start with being short of breath while walking up or down the stairs or a cough that does not go away. Some people think that feeling short of breath is a normal sign of aging, but that is not the case.

People with COPD usually have some or all of these symptoms:

  • feeling short of breath, especially during physical activity
  • feeling tired
  • a cough that lasts longer than three months
  • coughing up mucus
  • wheezing
  • getting several infections such as the cold, flu or pneumonia and taking longer to recover

Speak with your doctor or nurse practitioner if you have these signs and symptoms.

Causes of COPD

Below are some of the main causes of COPD:

  • Smoking is the number one cause of COPD
  • A rare genetic disorder called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency 
  • Second-hand smoke
  • Air pollution (dust or chemicals)
  • Repeated lung infections during childhood 
  • Severe asthma
  • Asthma combined with smoking

Canadian Lung Health Test

People who have smoked or currently smoke are at risk of developing COPD. COPD is short for "Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease" and it’s the new name for emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Some people who don't smoke can also develop COPD.

If you are over 40 and smoke or used to smoke, you may already have COPD. Take this quick test to screen for symptoms of COPD:

  •   Do you cough regularly?
  •   Do you cough up phlegm regularly?
  •   Do even simple chores make you short of breath?
  •   Do you wheeze when you exert yourself (exercise, go upstairs?)
  •   Do you get many colds and do your colds usually last longer than your friends' colds?

If you answered “YES” to one or more of these questions, you may have COPD. Ask your doctor about spirometry, a breathing test for lung disease.

This Canadian Lung Health test is for information purposes only. It should not replace a complete medical examination by a doctor. If you think you may have COPD or are worried about your health, please see your doctor.