Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease : Symptoms & Signs, Diagnosis & Tests

Symptoms & Signs

  • Cough with mucus
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea) that gets worse with mild activity
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Wheezing

Since the symptoms of COPD develop slowly, some people may be unaware that they are sick.

Diagnosis & Tests

The best test for COPD is a simple lung function test called spirometry. This involves blowing out as hard as one can into a small machine that tests lung capacity. The test can be interpreted immediately and does not involve exercising, drawing blood, or exposure to radiation.

Using a stethoscope to listen to the lungs can also be helpful, although sometimes the lungs sound normal even when COPD is present.

Pictures of the lungs (such as X-rays and CT scans) can be helpful but sometimes look normal even when a person has COPD.

Sometimes it is necessary to do a blood test (call a “blood gas”) to measure the amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.


Review Date : 10/9/2009
Reviewed By : Andrew Schriber, MD, FCCP, Specialist in Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, Virtua Memorial Hospital, Mount Holly, New Jersey. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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