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COPD flare-ups

COPD exacerbation; Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbation; Emphysema exacerbation; Chronic bronchitis exacerbation

Description

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 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 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbation, or COPD flare-up.

Causes

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 health care provider on an action plan for COPD exacerbations so that you know what to do.

Get to know your usual COPD symptoms, sleep patterns, and when you have good or bad days. This can help you learn the difference between your normal COPD symptoms and signs of a flare-up.

Warning 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:

What to Do at the First Sign of a Flare-up

At the first sign of a flare-up:

How to Prevent COPD Flare-ups

If you have COPD:

Avoid colds and the flu, you should:

Live a healthy lifestyle:

When to Call the Doctor

After following your COPD action plan, call your provider if your breathing is still:

Also call your provider if:

References

Criner GJ, Bourbeau J, Diekemper RL, et al. Prevention of acute exacerbations of COPD: American College of Chest Physicians and Canadian Thoracic Society guideline. Chest. 2015;147(4):894-942. PMID: 25321320 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25321320.

Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) website. Global strategy for the diagnosis, management, and prevention of COPD: 2019 report. goldcopd.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/GOLD-2019-v1.7-FINAL-14Nov2018-WMS.pdf. Accessed October 22, 2019.

Han MK, Lazarus SC. COPD: clinical diagnosis and management. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 44.

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Review Date: 10/1/2019  

Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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