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Symptoms and diagnosis

COPD Symptoms

People with COPD usually have one or more of these symptoms:

  • a cough that lasts a long time (3+ months)
  • a cough with mucus
  • feeling short of breath while doing everyday activities, such as climbing a flight of stairs or carrying groceries
  • lung infections (colds and the flu) that may last longer than usual
  • wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe)
  • feeling tired
  • losing weight (without trying to)

Please note that feeling short of breath is not a normal sign of aging. Talk to your health-care provider if you are short of breath when doing everyday activities like walking up the stairs.

 Canadian Lung Health Test

Smokers and former smokers are at a higher risk of developing COPD. If you are over 40 and smoke or used to smoke, take this quick test to screen for symptoms of COPD:

  • Do you cough regularly?
  • Do you cough up phlegm regularly?
  • Do even simple chores make you short of breath?
  • Do you wheeze when you exert yourself (exercise, go upstairs?)
  • Do you get many colds and do your colds usually last longer than your friends’ colds?

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, see your health-care provider to be assessed for COPD. Your health-care provider may send you for a lung function test called “spirometry”.


To diagnosis COPD, your health-care provider will ask you questions about your health history. Some of the questions may include:

  • Do you currently smoke or did you smoke in the past?
  • How often are you short of breath?
  • What makes your shortness of breath worse?
  • Do you cough? How long have you been coughing?
  • Do you cough up sputum (phlegm, mucus)?
  • Does anyone or did anyone in your family have lung disease?


Tests to Diagnose COPD

Spirometry is the most reliable way to diagnose COPD. It is a simple breathing test that measures the speed and the amount of air you are able to blow out of your lungs. If you are short of breath doing simple tasks, ask your health-care provider about sending you for a spirometry test. Your health-care provider may also refer you for other pulmonary function tests.

Chest X-ray
A chest x-ray may be useful to show some signs of COPD and to rule out other disorders, but should not be used to confirm the diagnosis of COPD.

This test measures the amount of oxygen in your blood using a clip that goes on your finger, toe or earlobe