Diagnosis of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

The diagnostic process for COPD includes a thorough medical history and physical examination.

Patients with COPD usually are current or past smokers over the age of 40 with a history of shortness of breath upon physical exertion and chronic productive cough. The physical examination may show a barrel chest, decreased breath sounds, and wheezing.

Signs of right-sided heart failure, such as edema, tender liver, and distended abdomen (caused by fluid accumulation in the abdomen; called ascites) may be noted as well. COPD is a diagnosis of history (in the case of chronic bronchitis), or a diagnosis of anatomy (in the case of emphysema). Clubbing of the fingers rarely occurs in COPD and warrants investigation for other causes.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.; the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 31 May 2000

Last Modified: 10 Sep 2015