6 Ways to Help Manage COPD

6 Ways to Help Manage COPD

Learn six ways to help get control over COPD exacerbations.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an umbrella term used for chronic respiratory illnesses including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, which result from damage to the lungs and make it more difficult for a person to breathe. COPD is a serious health condition, and is the third leading cause of death in the United States. It is also a very common health condition, affecting an estimated 65 million people worldwide.

While there is no cure for COPD, there are ways to treat the condition. The majority of COPD cases are attributable to cigarette smoking, and the first step in treatment for many patients is to quit smoking, which can help reduce symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. Additional lifestyle changes, medication and pulmonary rehabilitation may also be part of treatment.

Below are some tips on managing COPD.

Keep a journal
Many healthcare providers recommend that COPD patients or their caregivers keep a journal that tracks symptoms, treatments and day-to-day activities. This can help pinpoint exposure to COPD triggers, help identify patterns in symptoms and help determine how well a treatment is working. A journal can also provide useful information to a healthcare provider, and should be brought to appointments.

Eat well
While healthy eating won’t cure COPD, it can help you breathe better, have more energy and maintain a healthy bodyweight. For some people with COPD, achieving a healthy bodyweight may mean losing excess pounds. For others, it may mean keeping pounds on—many patients become underweight as a result of the disease. Being overweight or underweight can cause complications. Patients should work with a healthcare provider to come up with a healthy eating plan that addresses your nutritional needs.

Though having COPD can make exercise a challenge, regular physical activity offers many benefits to patients with COPD—improving cardiovascular health, endurance, circulation, blood pressure, sleep, muscle and bone strength, self-image and mental health. Exercise is a major focus of pulmonary rehabilitation. It is important to speak to your healthcare provider about the kinds of exercises you should do, as well as any precautions or limitations you may have.

Get enough sleep
COPD can interfere with sleep. This may be due to symptoms such as coughing or difficulty breathing, changes in breathing patterns during sleep or medications that are used to treat COPD. Because sleep is an important component of both physical and mental health, patients with COPD should take basic steps to help ensure a good night’s sleep, such as limiting caffeine and alcohol intake, limiting electronics use before bed and keeping the bedroom cool, dark and quiet. Any sleep disturbance or difficulties sleeping should be discussed with a healthcare provider.

Wash your hands often
Infections like the cold and flu are the cause of the majority of COPD exacerbations. And one of the best ways to prevent infections like the cold and flu is to wash your hands frequently. Cleanse with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds each time. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers, which don't require water, are another good method of killing germs.

Get vaccinated
As mentioned above, the flu, or influenza, can cause serious complications in COPD patients. Talk to your healthcare provider about getting a flu shot, as well as vaccinations for other infections such as pneumonia, tetanus, whooping cough and shingles.

Medically reviewed in August 2018.

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