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When you have
COPD, especially if you have chronic
bronchitis, you may sometimes have sudden attacks
where your breathing and coughing symptoms suddenly get worse and stay that
way. These attacks are called COPD exacerbations, or flare-ups.
With treatment, many people recover and return to the same level of shortness
of breath they had before the attack.
These attacks may be
life-threatening. If your symptoms suddenly get worse, and if taking your
medicine doesn't help, have someone take you to the emergency room. Call
911 if needed.
often occur more frequently, last longer, and are more severe the longer you
The two most
common causes of a COPD attack are:1
Having other health problems, such as heart failure or an abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia) may also trigger a flare-up. In about 33
out of 100 attacks—about a third—the cause is not known.1
Here's what happens during an attack:
In a COPD
attack, your usual symptoms suddenly get worse:
Some people also have a fever, insomnia, fatigue, depression,
Treatment of a COPD attack depends on how bad it is. It may involve several
visits to your doctor's office or clinic. Or you may need to be treated in the
To treat COPD attacks, experts recommend:
Treatment may also include:
Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (2013). Global Strategy for the Diagnosis, Management, and Prevention of COPD. Available online: http://www.goldcopd.org/guidelines-global-strategy-for-diagnosis-management.html.
Current as of:
April 29, 2014
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Ken Y. Yoneda, MD - Pulmonology
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