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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease that makes it hard for you to breathe. It is usually a result of lung damage caused by years of irritation and inflammation in your lungs. COPD is a serious condition that gets worse over time. There is no cure, but there are things you can do to feel better and prevent exacerbations. A COPD exacerbation is when your symptoms suddenly get worse. It is important to prevent exacerbations because they cause more lung damage.
Manage COPD and help prevent exacerbations:
- Do not smoke and avoid others who smoke. If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. You are likely to live longer and breathe easier if you quit smoking. You may also have fewer COPD exacerbations. Ask for information about medicines and support programs that can help you quit.
- Be aware of and avoid things that make your symptoms worse. Cold weather and sudden temperature changes can trigger an exacerbation. Fumes from cars and chemicals, air pollution, and perfume can also increase your symptoms.
- Exercise daily. Exercising for at least 20 minutes per day can help increase your energy and decrease shortness of breath. Walking or riding a bike are good ways to exercise. Ask about the best exercise plan for you.
- Prevent infections that can be dangerous when you have COPD. Get a flu vaccine every year as soon as it becomes available. Ask if you should also get vaccines to prevent pneumonia, whooping cough, tetanus, and diphtheria. Avoid people who are sick, and wash your hands often.
Use pursed-lip breathing any time you feel short of breath:
Take a deep breath in through your nose. Slowly breathe out through your mouth with your lips pursed for twice as long as you inhaled. You can also practice this breathing pattern while you bend, lift, climb stairs, or exercise. It slows down your breathing and helps move more air in and out of your lungs.
- Medicines to open your airways, decrease swelling and inflammation in your lungs, or treat an infection may be given. You may need 2 or more medicines. A short-acting medicine relieves symptoms quickly. Long-acting medicines will control or prevent symptoms. Ask for more information about the medicines you are given and how to use them safely.
- Take your medicine as directed. Contact your primary healthcare provider (PHP) if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.
Follow up with your PHP as directed:
You may need more tests. Your PHP may refer you to a pulmonary (lung) specialist. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.
Your PHP may recommend a program to help you manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life. It may include nutritional counseling and exercise, such as walking, to strengthen your lungs.
Make decisions about your choices for future treatment:
Ask for information about advanced medical directives and living wills. These documents help you decide and write down your choices for treatment and end-of-life care. It is best to complete them when you feel well and can think clearly about your wishes. The information can then be kept for future use if you are in the hospital or become very ill.
Contact your PHP if:
- You have more shortness of breath than usual.
- You need more medicine than usual to control your symptoms.
- You are coughing or wheezing more than usual.
- You are coughing up more mucus, or it is a different color or has a different odor.
- You gain more than 3 pounds in a week.
- You have a fever, a runny or stuffy nose, and a sore throat, or other cold or flu symptoms.
- Your skin, lips, or nails start to turn blue.
- You have swelling in your legs or ankles.
- You are very tired or weak for more than a day.
- You notice changes in your mood, or changes in your ability to think or concentrate.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
Return to the emergency department if:
- You are confused, dizzy, or feel faint.
- Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.
- You feel lightheaded, short of breath, and have chest pain.
- You cough up blood.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.