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Live Well with COPD

About COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a progres­sive disease that makes it hard to breathe. “Progressive” means the disease gets worse over time. COPD can cause coughing that produces large amounts of mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and other symptoms.

COPD develops slowly and is diag­nosed most commonly in middle-aged or older adults. Symptoms often worsen over time and can limit your ability to do routine activities. Severe COPD may prevent you from doing even basic activities like walking, cooking, or tak­ing care of yourself.

COPD has no cure yet, and doctors don’t know how to reverse the damage to the airways and lungs. However, adhering to treatments and making some lifestyle changes can help you feel better, stay more active, and slow the progress of the disease.

Avoid lung irritants.
If you smoke, quit. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD. Talk with your doctor about pro­grams and products that can help you quit. If you have trouble quitting smok­ing on your own, consider joining a support group or a smoking cessation class. Ask your family members and friends to support you in your efforts to quit as well.

Lung irritants, such as secondhand smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes, and dust, also can contribute to COPD. Keep these irritants out of your home. If you have your home painted or sprayed for insects, have it done when you can stay away for a while. Keep your windows closed and stay at home (if possible) when there’s a lot of air pollution or dust outside.

Adhering to treatments and making some lifestyle
changes can help you feel better, stay more active,
and slow the progress of the disease.

Get ongoing care.
If you have COPD, it’s important to get ongoing medical care. Take all of your medicines as your doctor prescribes, and make sure to refill your prescriptions before they run out. Bring a list of all the medicines you’re taking to your medical checkups.

Talk with your doctor about when or if you should get flu and pneumonia vaccines. Ask about other diseases for which COPD may increase your risk, such as heart disease, lung cancer, and pneumonia.

Manage COPD and its symptoms.
In addition to receiving ongoing care, you can make some lifestyle changes to help manage COPD and its symptoms. If your symptoms are mild, you may make small adjustments to your routines to make breathing easier, like taking the elevator instead of the stairs when the option is available.

If physical exertion causes you to become short of breath, do activities slowly. Wear shoes and loose garments that are easy to put on and take off. Keep items that you need often in one place that’s easy to reach. Ask for help mov­ing things around in your house so that you won’t need to climb stairs as often. Find simple ways to cook, clean, and do other chores. For example, you can use a small table or cart with wheels to move things around and a pole or tongs with long handles to reach things. De­pending on how severe your disease is, you may want to ask your family and friends for help with daily tasks.

Be prepared for emergencies.
If you have COPD, know when and where to seek help for your symptoms. Keep phone numbers handy for your doctor, hospital, and someone who can take you for medical care. You also should have directions to your doctor’s office and the hospital, as well as a list of all the medicines you’re taking.

Call your doctor if you notice that your symptoms are worsening or if you have signs of an infection, such as a fever. Your doctor may change or ad­just your treatments to relieve and treat symptoms. You should get emergency care if you have severe symptoms, such as trouble catching your breath or talk­ing. You also should seek emergency care if your lips or fingernails turn blue or gray (a sign of a low oxygen level in your blood), you’re not mentally alert, your heartbeat is very fast, or the rec­ommended treatment for the symptoms that are getting worse isn’t working.

Seek support for emotional issues.
Living with COPD may cause fear, anx­iety, depression, and stress. Talk with your healthcare team about how you feel. You also might consider talking to a professional counselor. If you’re very depressed, your doctor may recommend medicines or other treatments that can improve your quality of life.

Joining a support group is another option that can help you adjust to living with COPD. You can see how other people who have the same symptoms have coped with them. Ask your doctor about local support groups, or check with a medical center in your area.

Support from family and friends can help relieve stress and anxiety as well. Let your loved ones know how you feel and what they can do to help you.


Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute,

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Fall/Winter 2015-2016.