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How is lung disease and COPD treated in the ICU?

Prof. Dianna Bottoms
Critical Care Nursing Specialist

Lung disease and COPD are treated with a variety of measures, including oxygen and medications. If patients are not able to breathe adequately on their own, then machines may be used to help assist or take over the work of breathing until they are able. The goal is always to have the patient off of machines as quickly as possible. The longer the patient is on the machines, the weaker the breathing muscles become. In addition to medications and machines, some other therapies include asking the patient to take deep breaths and to cough frequently, which helps to open the tiny air sacs and to move mucous out of the airways. Another therapy is as simple as turning the patient from side to side to help encourage the lungs to work more effectively. Lastly, sitting the patient up in bed or in the bedside chair is a therapy that helps to strengthen the muscles used for breathing and balance and help the lungs expand more effectively.

Debra Dibartolo
Nursing Specialist

You may not be able to prevent an acute exacerbation of your COPD completely but there are several things that you can do to help prevent your COPD from flaring up so badly that you do require an ICU admission.

  1. Get your immunizations—flu and pneumovax as recommended by your doctor or nurse practitioner.
  2. Stop smoking and avoid people and places with cigarette smoke.
  3. Take your medications exactly as prescribed.
  4. Establish a relationship with a primary care doctor or nurse practitioner and a pulmonologist (if needed) that you respect and trust so you can manage your COPD as a team.
  5. Do not ignore symptoms-if you are not feeling well or are more short of breath than expected talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner.
  6. Encourage members of your family and yourself to practice good hand hygiene to prevent the spread of upper respiratory viruses.
  7. Exercise to your tolerance-Consider physical therapy with your primary care provider to prevent deconditioning.
  8. Eat well—check out my plate.gov for tips on healthy eating and talk with your primary care doctor or nurse practitioner regarding your food intake.
  9. Have a health care proxy-If a catastrophic event occurs with your health you will have already discussed what your wishes are for treatment and this person can advocate for you and your wishes if you are unable.
  10. Use your oxygen, bi-pap and nebulizers as directed by your health care team.
  11. Be honest and let your doctor or nurse practitioner know if a particular treatment or medication they are recommending does not fit in to your life routine or you do not like how it is making you feel.
  12. Consider mental health support if needed. Chronic illness like COPD can be a stress on you and your family emotionally. Being emotionally well balanced is as important as being physically well balenced.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.