Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a term that describes the lung diseases emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Many people who are diagnosed with COPD actually have both chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and the symptoms of both can be very similar so the two conditions are grouped together under the label of COPD. Emphysema is a lung disease that affects the air sacs (alveoli) of the lungs, and chronic bronchitis affects the airways (bronchi) that lead to the air sacs of the lungs. COPD is more common in smokers than non-smoking individuals.
A person who has COPD may not notice any symptoms until significant lung damage has already been done. The lung damage associated with COPD is irreversible, but treatment is available to improve the symptoms, complications and quality of life of COPD sufferers and prevent further damage to the lungs. At first, a person with COPD may feel short of breath when exercising and have a lingering cough. It may not be apparent that these symptoms are a sign of a serious lung disease, and at first these signs may be attributed to aging by the person experiencing them. As the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease lung damage progresses, a person may start to feel short of breath even when they are not exercising strenuously. A severe cough and wheezing for air may also occur in later-stage COPD. Fatigue may occur, especially if a person has a low oxygen saturation due to emphysema. COPD lung damage also makes a person much more susceptible to respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, which come with symptoms and complications of their own.
A person with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may experience pain, especially chest pain. The lungs themselves don’t hurt, even though the lung tissue is severely damaged in advanced COPD. The chest pain usually comes from the muscles of the chest wall. Frequent and severe coughing and wheezing can both cause the chest muscles to be overworked and become sore and painful. It is possible to pull muscles from coughing, which leads to a sharp or aching type of pain. Muscle aches may also occur throughout the body in some COPD patients, along with fatigue symptoms and muscle weakness. COPD patients with pneumonia or other respiratory infections may be even more prone to experiencing muscle aches and pains. In rare cases, coughing too hard can even cause a rib fracture.
Chest pain in COPD patients may sometimes occur due to other conditions that are not involving the lungs, so it is important to get the cause of the pain diagnosed. For example, if a person has COPD and osteoporosis, it is possible that pain in the thoracic area could be caused by a vertebral fracture. Chest pain is also commonly caused by a heart attack, so new and unexplained chest pain should be checked out by a doctor. This is especially true if the new chest pain is accompanied by referred pain down the arms or around the shoulders and neck. It is important not to write off new symptoms that could indicate another serious condition, such as heart disease, to COPD. If you have COPD and are experiencing unexplained pain, talk to your doctor so that the cause of the pain can be determined and the pain can be treated.