Symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, include wheezing, shortness of breath, mucus buildup, chronic coughing, lack of energy, and chest tightness, according to Mayo Clinic. A person may also lose weight and develop respiratory infections easily. Low oxygen levels in the body can also lead to cyanosis, a condition that causes blue discoloration on the fingernails and lips.
COPD is a respiratory disease that constricts breathing due to progressive lung damage, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute states. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are two common forms of COPD, and many sufferers develop both diseases. The condition usually occurs when cellular walls in the respiratory system become inflamed or deteriorated. It can also develop when the airways and air sacs lose their elasticity or become blocked from excessive mucus production.
In a healthy respiratory system, flexible air tubes, known as bronchi and bronchioles, carry oxygen to tiny air sacs, or alveoli, according to the NHLBI. Oxygen from air sacs is absorbed into the bloodstream through a network of blood vessels, while carbon dioxide is transferred out of the body. COPD can damage and irritate the airways so severely that their normal structure collapses or becomes shapeless, preventing them from stretching and pushing air through the respiratory system.
Smoking and secondhand exposure are the greatest risk factors for COPD, especially if a person already has asthma, Mayo Clinic states. Frequent exposure to chemicals or dust in the workplace can also trigger symptoms, and some individuals develop a genetic disorder that increases their susceptibility.