Effects of COPD on the patient's life

As you already know, the symptoms of COPD include a persistent cough that produces large amounts of mucus (often called a 'smoker's cough'), shortness of breath, especially with physical activity, wheezing, chest tightness and frequent infections in the lungs (colds, pneumonia). As the disease gets worse over time, the flow of air into and out of the lungs becomes so poor that the person becomes seriously disabled by breathlessness. They may have swelling (oedema) in their ankles, feet or legs, a bluish colour on their lips due to a low blood oxygen level, and extreme shortness of breath even when sitting still. It becomes impossible to walk even a few metres.

COPD also affects the quality of life in other ways. Breathlessness stops people from doing normal physical and social activities, which further reduces their independence and contact with family, friends and neighbours. They become poor because they cannot work, and have to live with family members who may not be sympathetic to their condition. COPD can lead to a diminished role within society and the family, and the loss of intimacy in personal relationships. Many COPD sufferers eventually become housebound (unable to go out at all) and heavily dependent on family care.

Immediately refer a person with COPD causing severe breathlessness; they urgently need oxygen supplied through a mask.

A person with COPD may die from heart failure, because the heart becomes exhausted by the effort of trying to pump enough oxygen around the body. Urgent medical attention is required if they are having difficulty getting enough breath for talking, their lips and fingernails turn blue due to the low oxygen level in their blood, and their heart is beating very fast.

Last modified: Monday, 23 June 2014, 4:30 PM