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Recognising worsening COPD

Knowing your symptoms and recognising when they’re getting worse is an important part of COPD management. It means you can take steps to control your symptoms and reduce the severity of an exacerbation (flare-up) before one happens.1 If you have a self-management plan, these steps will be part of your plan.

Symptoms and severity vary from person to person, so the advantage of a self-management plan is that all the information is specific to you.

Possible signs of worsening1,2
  • You’re more breathless than normal
  • You’re coughing more than normal
  • You’re coughing up more mucus than normal
  • Your mucus has changed colour
  • Your ankles are more swollen than normal
When to act2

If you experience any of the following symptoms, it could be a sign that you are having an exacerbation so you need to take action:

  • You’re much more breathless than normal
  • You’re coughing up more mucus than normal
  • You’re coughing up different coloured mucus

If you have two or more of these symptoms you are definitely having an exacerbation.

What do to2

This depends on what medication you’re on, and whether your doctor has given you any antibiotics or steroid tablets to keep at home. That’s why self-management plans are important — advice is confusing if it’s about medicines you haven’t been prescribed. If unsure seek expert medical advice.

Approval code: RESP-IE-NP-00099

Date of preparation: November 2020

  1. COPD: Living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. British Lung Foundation. Last accessed: November 2020.
  2. MRC Dyspnoea scale/MRC Breathlessness scale. Medical Research Council. Available at: Last accessed: November 2020.

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