COPD exacerbation; Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbation; Emphysema exacerbation; Chronic bronchitis exacerbation
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.
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.
Signs and symptoms 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:
At the first sign of a flare-up:
If you have COPD:
Avoid colds and the flu, you should:
Live a healthy lifestyle:
After following your COPD action plan, call your provider if your breathing is still:
Also call your provider if:
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 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25321320/.
Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) website. 2021 Global strategy for the diagnosis, management, and prevention of COPD. goldcopd.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/GOLD-REPORT-2021-v1.1-25Nov20_WMV.pdf. Accessed December 29, 2021.
Han MK, Lazarus SC. COPD: Diagnosis and management. In: Broaddus VC, King TE, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 64.BACK TO TOP
Review Date: 12/6/2021
Reviewed By: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Paul F. Harron Jr. Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. 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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