The symptoms of COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, include shortness of breath, chest tightness, wheezing, lack of energy, weight loss and frequent respiratory infections, explains the Mayo Clinic. A chronic cough with clear or colored phlegm and blueness of lips or fingernails are also signs. The symptoms usually appear after significant lung damage and worsen with time.
Episodes that prolong and worsen symptoms, or exacerbations, commonly occur with COPD, notes the Mayo Clinic. When the condition becomes severe, physical activities such as walking, cleaning and even bathing can become strenuous, according to WebMD. As the disease progresses, symptoms may include the swelling of feet or legs from fluid accumulation, muscular weakness, unintended weight loss, and headaches in the morning.
COPD usually results from two common conditions: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Emphysema destroys the air sacs in the lungs that expand and contract during breathing. Eventually, the damaged air sacs enlarge and trap stale air, and people with emphysema experience difficulty when exhaling. With chronic bronchitis, the small airwaves in the lungs become damaged and produce excess mucus, and their walls become engorged, states WebMD. The major symptom of chronic bronchitis is a persistent cough that lasts at least three months a year for two successive years, according to Mayo Clinic.
The COPD Foundation states that individuals working in industrial environments, who smoke cigarettes, live close to industrial environments, or have a family history of COPD are at the highest risk for developing COPD. The American Lung Association recommends quitting or not starting smoking, and avoiding exposure to second-hand smoke and fumes as preventative methods for COPD. For those working in industrial environments, the ALA also recommends consulting the company's health and safety advisor for access to material-safety data sheets for information about how to protect oneself from chemicals, fumes and dust.