Skip to Content

Copd (chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

What is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)?

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. This limits air flow in your lungs. Smoking, pollution, genetics, or a history of lung infections can increase your risk for COPD.


What are the signs and symptoms of COPD?

  • Shortness of breath
  • A dry cough
  • Coughing fits that bring up mucus from your lungs
  • Wheezing and chest tightness

How is COPD diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and examine you. He or she will ask if a family member has COPD or breathing problems. He or she will ask if you are a current or former smoker. Tell your provider if you have other medical conditions, such as heart disease or asthma. Tell him or her how long you have had symptoms, what makes them worse, and how they affect your life. You may need the following:

  • Lung function tests measure the airflow in your lungs and show how well you can breathe.
  • Blood tests check for infection and measure oxygen levels in your blood.
  • A chest x-ray is done to check for other lung problems.
  • CT scan pictures may be taken of your lungs. You may be given contrast liquid to help your lungs show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.

How is COPD treated?

  • Medicines may be used to open your airways, decrease swelling and inflammation in your lungs, or treat an infection. You may need 2 or more medicines. A short-acting medicine relieves symptoms quickly. Long-acting medicines will control or prevent symptoms. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about the medicines you are given and how to use them safely.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation is a program to help you manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life. It may include nutritional counseling and exercise to strengthen your lungs.
  • Oxygen may help you breathe easier and feel more alert if you have severe COPD.
  • Surgery is sometimes done if all other treatments have failed. A lung reduction is surgery to remove part of your damaged lung. A lung transplant is the replacement of your lung with a donor lung. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about surgery for COPD.

What are the risks of COPD?

COPD raises your risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Without treatment, COPD can become life-threatening.

What can I do to help make breathing easier?

  • 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.
    Breathe in Breathe out
  • Do not smoke, and avoid others who smoke. Nicotine and other substances can cause lung irritation or damage and make it harder for you to breathe. Do not use e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco. They still contain nicotine. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. For support and more information:
    • Smokefree.gov
      Phone: 1- 800 - 784-8669
      Web Address: www.smokefree.gov
  • Be aware of and avoid anything that makes your symptoms worse. Stay out of high altitudes and places with high humidity. Stay inside, or cover your mouth and nose with a scarf when you are outside during cold weather. Stay inside on days when air pollution or pollen counts are high. Do not use aerosol sprays such as deodorant, bug spray, and hair spray.

How can I manage COPD and help prevent exacerbations?

COPD is a serious condition that gets worse over time. A COPD exacerbation means your symptoms suddenly get worse. It is important to prevent exacerbations. An exacerbation can cause more lung damage. COPD cannot be cured, but you can take action to feel better and prevent COPD exacerbations:

  • Protect yourself from germs. Germs can get into your lungs and cause an infection. An infection in your lungs can create more mucus and make it harder to breathe. An infection can also create swelling in your airways and prevent air from getting in. You can decrease your risk for infection by doing the following:
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Carry germ-killing gel with you. You can use the gel to clean your hands when soap and water are not available.
      Handwashing
    • Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth unless you have washed your hands first.
    • Always cover your mouth when you cough. Cough into a tissue or your shirtsleeve so you do not spread germs from your hands.
    • Try to avoid people who have a cold or the flu. If you are sick, stay away from others as much as possible.
  • Drink more liquids. This will help to keep your air passages moist and help you cough up mucus. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • Exercise daily. Exercise for at least 20 minutes each day to help increase your energy and decrease shortness of breath. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you.
  • Ask about vaccines. Your healthcare provider may recommend that you get regular flu and pneumonia vaccines. Pneumonia can become life-threatening for a person who has COPD. Ask about other vaccines you may need.Ask your healthcare provider about the flu and pneumonia vaccines. All adults should get the flu (influenza) vaccine every year as soon as it becomes available. The pneumonia vaccine is given to adults aged 65 or older to prevent pneumococcal disease, such as pneumonia. Adults aged 19 to 64 years who are at high risk for pneumococcal disease also should get the pneumococcal vaccine. It may need to be repeated 1 or 5 years later.

Call 911 if:

  • You feel lightheaded, short of breath, and have chest pain.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You are confused, dizzy, or feel faint.
  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.
  • You cough up blood.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • 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.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

© 2017 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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.

Hide