top of page
COPD & Breathing Problems

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a term that describes a number of different lung diseases that prevent proper breathing.

Two of the most common types of COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis.  COPD is a very serious disease and if you have any of the symptoms listed below you should talk to your local GP and get tested.  


Cigarette smoking is the most significant risk factor for COPD.

What are the symptoms of COPD?

Symptoms of COPD include:

  • breathlessness after exertion

  • in severe cases, breathlessness on minimal exertion or even at rest

  • wheezing

  • coughing

  • coughing up sputum (mucus or phlegm)

  • fatigue

  • cyanosis – a blue tinge to the skin caused by insufficient oxygen

  • increased susceptibility to chest infections.

Complications of COPD

If you have COPD you are at increased risk of a number of complications, including:

  • chest infections – a common cold can easily lead to a severe infection

  • pneumonia – a lung infection that targets the alveoli and bronchioles

  • collapsed lung – the lung may develop an air pocket. If the air pocket bursts during a coughing fit, the lung will deflate

  • heart problems – the heart has to work extremely hard to pump blood through the damaged lungs

  • osteoporosis – where bones become thin and break more easily. Steroid use in people with COPD is thought to contribute to osteoporosis

  • anxiety and depression – breathlessness or the fear of breathlessness can often lead to feelings of anxiety and depression

  • oedema (fluid retention) – problems with blood circulation can cause fluid to pool, particularly in the feet and ankles

  • hypoxaemia – caused by lack of oxygen to the brain. Symptoms include cognitive difficulties such as confusion, memory lapses and depression

  • risks of sedentary lifestyle – as symptoms of COPD progress, many people adjust their lifestyle to avoid symptoms. For example, they reduce their physical activity to avoid breathlessness. As they reduce their physical activity, they become less fit and even more breathless on exertion. This downward spiral of inactivity means they are prone to a range of potentially serious health problems, such as obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Treatment for COPD

There is no cure for COPD, but disease management can slow disease progression, relieve symptoms and keep you out of hospital.


However, treatment can help in many cases to prevent further damage, reduce the risk of complications and ease some of the symptoms.  Treatment includes pulmonary rehabilitation, medicines and oxygen therapy.


Victoria Health

bottom of page