When to Call the Doctor About Your COPD Symptoms

The keys to managing COPD are to stop smoking, take your medications, avoid irritants and infections, exercise, and see your doctor frequently. Frequent visits, as often as monthly, will help you and your doctor closely manage your condition. Ask your doctor how often to schedule appointments.

If you are having any of the symptoms described below, don't wait for your next appointment to call your doctor. Report these symptoms promptly, even if you don't feel sick. DO NOT wait for symptoms to become so severe that you need to seek emergency care. If your symptoms are discovered early, your doctor might change your treatment or medications to relieve your symptoms. (Never change or stop taking your medications without first talking to your doctor).

Note: Remember that warning signs or symptoms might be the same or different from one flare-up to another.

Non-emergency care

Talk to your doctor on the phone within 24 hours if you have these changes in your health:

  • Shortness of breath that has become worse or occurs more often. Examples:
    • Unable to walk as far as usual
    • Need more pillows or have to sit up to sleep because of breathing difficulty
    • More tired because you're working harder to breathe
    • Need breathing treatments or inhalers more often than usual
    • Wake up short of breath more than once a night
  • Sputum (mucus) changes including:
    • Changes in color
    • Presence of blood
    • Changes in thickness or amount (more than you usually have or more than you are able to cough out)
    • Odor
  • More coughing or wheezing
  • Swelling in your ankles, feet, or legs that is new or has become worse and doesn't go away after a night's sleep with your feet up
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain of 2 pounds in a day or 5 pounds in a week
  • Frequent morning headaches or dizziness
  • Fever, especially with cold or flu symptoms
  • Restlessness, confusion, forgetfulness, slurring of speech, or irritability
  • Unexplained, extreme fatigue or weakness that lasts for more than a day

Emergency care

Go to your local emergency department or call 9-1-1 if you have:

  • A life-threatening emergency
  • New or worsened shortness of breath that is not relieved by your medicines or prescribed treatments

Important:

Know how to contact your doctor after hours and on weekends. Always keep the following close to your phone for easy access:

  • A list of your doctors' phone numbers, a current list of your medications and dosages
  • Any allergies you have

ęCopyright 1995-2014 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved

This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. For additional written health information, please contact the Health Information Center at the Cleveland Clinic (216) 444-3771 or toll-free (800) 223-2273 extension 43771 or visit www.clevelandclinic.org/health/.

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