COPD symptoms can worsen suddenly. You may find it hard to breathe. You may cough or wheeze more or produce more phlegm. You might also feel anxious and have trouble sleeping or doing your daily activities. This problem is called a COPD exacerbation, or COPD flare-up.
Certain illnesses, colds, and lung infections from viruses or bacteria can lead to flare-ups. Other causes may include:
You can often manage a flare-up right away with medicines and self-care. Work with your doctor on an action plan for COPD exacerbations so that you know what to do.
Get to know your usual symptoms, sleep patterns, and when you have good or bad days. This can help you learn the difference between your normal symptoms and signs of a COPD flare-up.
Signs of a COPD flare-up last 2 days or more and are more intense than your usual symptoms. The symptoms get worse and just don't go away. If you have a full-blown exacerbation, you may need to go to the hospital.
Common early signs include:
Other possible signs of flare-up include:
If you have COPD:
Avoid colds and the flu.
Live a healthy lifestyle.
After following your COPD action plan, you should call your doctor if your breathing is still:
Also call your doctor if:
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In: Ferri, FF. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2014, 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2013:section 1.
Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD). Global strategy for the diagnosis, management, and prevention of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Vancouver (WA): Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD); 2013.
Qaseem A, Wilt TJ, Weinberger SE, Hanania NA, et al. Diagnosis and management of stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a clinical practice guideline update from the American College of Physicians, American College of Chest Physicians, American Thoracic Society, and European Respiratory Society. Ann Intern Med. 2011;155(3):179-191.
Updated by: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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