The later stages of COPD can mean that your family member is not as communicative as she might have once been. As such, it’s a little more difficult to know when she’s just having a bad day or a COPD flare is coming.
She’s Coughing More than Usual
Coughing is the body’s way of trying to remove mucus and other fluids from the lungs. Although some mucous is necessary, too much of it becomes an irritant and it affects the lungs and their ability to draw in air. If your family member is coughing more than usual that means that she’s likely experiencing a buildup of more mucus than she usually has. This can be an indication that something else is going on.
She’s Got a Fever or Appears to Have Tightness in Her Chest
During a flare, your family member may experience a tighter feeling in her chest when she breathes. If she can’t tell you that’s what she’s experiencing, you may start to notice that she tenses up when she tries to breathe or that she has a grimace on her face. She may even moan or make other vocalizations. Another sign that indicates that she’s experiencing difficulty is if she starts to develop a fever. Like the increased coughing and the tightness in her chest, this can mean that an infection is brewing.
She’s Sleeping More than Usual
COPD is exhausting for the human body. Your family member is fighting to draw enough air into her lungs and then her lungs are fighting to eke out every bit of oxygen that they can from that air. Because of all of this effort, your family member might be more tired than usual and that translates to sleeping more. Her sleep might be restless, though, because she’s still waging a battle for air
Her Extremities Are Swelling
You might find it odd that a lung condition can create circulatory problems, but it’s true. Because it’s so difficult for your family member’s body to move oxygen through her bloodstream, blood vessels start to narrow. That creates problems with moving blood and other fluids throughout the body, leading to swelling of the extremities. This problem becomes more severe when your family member’s COPD worsens.
It’s a good idea to have help from end-of-life care providers who are familiar with COPD. They can help you start to recognize when your family member’s symptoms are becoming worse and hopefully help you take action before she develops an infection in her lungs.