In taking your medical history, your health professional will ask questions about:
Shortness of breath. When were you first short of breath (at exercise or at rest)? How often are you short of breath? How long have you been short of breath? Is it getting worse? How far can you walk and how many steps can you climb before having to stop because of shortness of breath? Coughing. How often and when do you cough? How long have you been coughing? Is it getting worse? Do you cough upmucus(sputum)? What color is it? Have you ever coughed up blood? Your and your spouse's or housemate's use of tobacco: whether any of you smoke, how long you've smoked, how many cigarettes a day you smoke, how long ago you quit smoking, whether you feel you can quit smoking, and more. Exposure to airborne irritants, such as dust or chemicals, on the job. Childhood respiratory illnesses. Family history of respiratory disease. Other medical conditions you may have and their treatment. How your condition is affecting your quality of life: missed work, disrupted routines, and depression, for example. What type of family and social support you have.
During the physical examination, your health professional will examine your body for other clues that may explain the cause of your symptoms. A physical exam involves:
Taking your temperature, weight, andbody mass index (BMI), which measures weight for height and provides a way to estimate the effect of weight on health. Examining your ears, eyes, nose, and throat for signs of infection. Listening to your heart and lungs with a stethoscope. Checking for signs that blood is backing up in your neck veins, which may indicate a heart problem such ascor pulmonale. Pressing or tapping on your abdomen (abdominal palpation). Examining your fingers and lips to see whether the skin has a blue tint (cyanosis). Checking your fingers to see if their ends swell and the nails bulge outward (clubbing). Evaluating your legs and feet for swelling (edema). A physical examination is not painful, but parts of it (such as abdominal palpation) may feel slightly uncomfortable.
Why It Is Done
A history and physical exam help your health professional make a diagnosis. They are a routine and important part of any visit to a health professional.
Your history may reveal risk factors that suggest you have COPD or an increased risk for developing COPD, such as:
Cigarette smoking. Family history ofemphysema. Work-related hazards. Frequent, severe respiratory illnesses. Long-term (chronic) cough with or without mucus. Progressive shortness of breath. Your physical examination may also suggest COPD. Findings indicating COPD include: An expanded chest (barrel chest). Wheezingduring normal breathing. Taking longer to exhale fully. Decreased breath sounds or abnormal breath sounds such as crackles or wheezes.
Certain physical exam findings will help your health professional assess the severity of your condition. These include:
The use of "accessory" muscles, such as the neck muscles, during quiet breathing. Breathing through pursed lips. The inability to complete full sentences without stopping to take a breath. Bluish discoloration of the fingertips or nailbeds (cyanosis). Swelling in the legs or abdomen.
Any or all of these findings may suggest severe impairment.
A careful history and examination of your heart should also be done to exclude heart disease that can either be associated with or cause symptoms similar to those of COPD. This is especially important because smoking is an important risk for heart disease as well as COPD. The heart exam may reveal a rapid heart rate or show signs ofheart failure.
Thelivermay be increased in size, which sometimes can occur because of right-sided heart failure (cor pulmonale).
The result of the physical exam varies. Not every person will have all the possible symptoms or signs of COPD.