COPD: End-of-Life Symptoms

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease -- COPD -- is a medical term used to describe a collection of lung diseases that include emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD is the leading cause of death throughout the world. There is currently no cure for lung damage caused by COPD, and symptoms continually worsen as this disease progresses. End-of-life symptoms associated with COPD can be severe, but may be managed by treatments recommended by your doctor.

Healthcare worker holding patient's hand on hospital gurney (Image: Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)


The most common end-of-life symptom of COPD is breathlessness -- a condition also referred to as dyspnea. Symptoms of breathlessness can cause you to feel frequently out of breath or winded, and can occur in conjunction with cough. You may also experience wheezing or chest tightness, which can cause discomfort. End-of-life breathlessness symptoms significantly impact your ability to move normally or take care of your daily needs. Such symptoms will likely lead you to be housebound or chairbound during the end stage of this disease.


Pain can develop during end-of-life COPD. This pain can be mild to severe and typically affect the muscles involved in respiration. You may experience painful sensations within your chest or abdomen, which may worsen when you breathe in. These end-of-life symptoms are typically controlled through the use of analgesic medications.


Decreased levels of oxygen in the body caused by COPD-related breathlessness can interfere with your body's ability to generate energy. Poor oxygen levels in the blood can lead to damage of internal organs, which can cause them to stop working normally. When these symptoms develop during end-stage COPD, you may experience severely decreased energy levels, leading to significant fatigue or drowsiness. You may sleep for long periods during the day or struggle to perform certain tasks, such as lifting a cup to your mouth, due to these low energy levels.

Other Symptoms

Insufficient oxygen levels within the body can interfere with normal brain function near the end of life with COPD. You may become frequently confused or disoriented.

Poor blood circulation due to low oxygen levels within the body can cause your body temperature to decrease. If this occurs, you may notice that your hands or feet are cold to the touch.

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