COPD Exacerbation Signs, Symptoms & Effects

At TrustPoint Hospital we believe education is an important first step in the effort to heal from COPD exacerbation. Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of COPD exacerbation can help you get the right type and level of care for yourself or a loved one.

Understanding COPD Exacerbation

Learn about COPD Exacerbation

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a medical diagnosis used to describe certain diseases of the lungs. Those who are suffering from emphysema, severe asthma (also known as refractory asthma), chronic bronchitis, and forms of bronchiectasis are diagnosed with COPD when they unable to breathe and experience breathlessness even when not engaging in strenuous or physical activity. Additionally, when these individuals do engage in strenuous or physical activity, being able to breathe on one’s own can prove to be quite difficult and lead to the onset of other medical concerns as a result.

Should the symptoms of COPD become worse and bring about symptoms that warrant medical attention, a person will then be treated for COPD exacerbation. COPD exacerbation is serious and should be quickly addressed by qualified medical professionals who can administer COPD treatment needed to prevent more serious outcomes.


Statistics on COPD Exacerbation

According to the American Lung Association, COPD affects as many as eleven million people in the United States, and is now the third leading cause of death among Americans. Additionally, women are believed to suffer from this disease more often than men due to having smaller lungs and other factors such as female hormone levels. Lastly, smoking tobacco and being exposed to pollutants are the leading contributors to the onset of COPD symptoms. Without treatment, when an individual does not adhere to the recommendations set forth by healthcare providers, or if an infection is contracted while already suffering from COPD, the risk for experiencing COPD exacerbation goes up exponentially.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for COPD Exacerbation

COPD exacerbation is primarily caused by an infection of the lungs that leads to swelling and irritation within one’s breathing tubes and lungs when already suffering from COPD. As a means of protecting the lungs from further damage, inflammation occurs and compromises an individual’s ability to take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide in an effective manner.

Risk Factors:

  • Continuing to smoke tobacco products or other substances that can cause further lung damage when ingested
  • Contracting viruses that could lead to an infection of the lungs
  • Ongoing exposure to allergens or pollutants

Signs and Symptoms of COPD Exacerbation

The primary symptom of COPD exacerbation is an increase in shortness of breath and being unable to catch one’s breath even after taking the time to relax and compose one’s self. Additionally, the following signs and symptoms are those that may indicate someone is suffering from COPD exacerbation:

  • Changes in mucus
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling as though one has a severe cold or pneumonia
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Increased fatigue
  • Increased heart rate
  • More intense cough
  • Tightness in one’s chest
  • Weight loss
  • Wheezing while breathing

If any of the above signs and symptoms are present, it is important seek medical attention as soon as possible in order to avoid a more serious outcome or to prevent further health complications.

Effects of COPD Exacerbation

Effects of COPD Exacerbation

COPD exacerbation can bring about numerous other medical concerns that can be life-threatening. If preventative measures are not taken to avoid the worsening of COPD symptoms or if treatment is delayed when the signs of COPD exacerbation become apparent, the following effects are likely to occur:

  • Decreased quality of life, including the inability to work, complete daily household tasks, or live an independent life
  • Development of certain forms of cancer
  • Greater chance of becoming dependent upon an oxygen tank or ventilator for breathing
  • Heart attack or other cardiac condition
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased need for more frequent medical care or hospitalization
  • Onset of mental health concerns, including anxiety and depression

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Conditions and Disorders

For those who are suffering from COPD and are experiencing an exacerbation of symptoms as the disease progresses, it is common to also suffer from certain co-occurring conditions and disorders. The below listed conditions and disorders are but a few examples of those that can impact the lives of people who are suffering from COPD exacerbation:

  • Anemia
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Cancer
  • Depressive disorders
  • Diabetes
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Glaucoma
  • Heart disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Other serious lung infections
  • Sleep disorders

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