How to Stick With Your COPD Treatment Plan

Staying on top of your COPD treatment plan—even when you’re feeling better—can reduce your risk of health complications.

Medically reviewed in December 2020

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a progressive lung condition that can cause shortness of breath, chronic cough, fatigue and wheezing.

Proper COPD management often requires a three-pronged approach that includes prescription medications, supportive therapies like pulmonary rehabilitation or supplemental oxygen and lifestyle changes.

If the thought of trying to maintain three lines of treatment at once sounds overwhelming, that’s understandable. The good news is that you’re not alone: Working with your doctor to develop a plan that suits your needs can empower you to take charge of your health and tackle the challenges posed by COPD.

Benefits of COPD treatment
There’s no cure for COPD. But there’s plenty you can do to manage your symptoms and prevent your condition from getting worse. The three-pronged approach to COPD management offers a variety of benefits to your health.

1. Medication
First and foremost, taking your medication as prescribed is essential. Some medications are intended to treat a COPD flare—in other words, to help relieve symptoms right away. Other medications work more slowly over time to help keep symptoms at bay.

Regardless of which medications you’re prescribed, following your COPD treatment plan as directed can help you:

  • Improve COPD symptoms
  • Enjoy everyday activities
  • Prevent future COPD flares

2. Additional therapies for COPD
Programs like pulmonary rehabilitation can help empower you to take charge of your health and manage any negative emotions you may be feeling about your diagnosis. Because it can often help to connect with others who understand what you’re going through and share tips for living with and managing COPD, many pulmonary rehab programs have a social support component that puts you in touch with other patients.

If your doctor recommends oxygen therapy, sticking with it can help you stay active, feel more comfortable and boost confidence, which can help you feel better overall.

3. Making changes to your everyday life
Lifestyle changes also play an important role in managing COPD. Quitting smoking, exercising regularly and doing what you can to reduce the risk of infections (such as getting your flu shot every year) can help you breathe easier, reduce COPD flares and further improve your quality of life. Your doctor will also determine whether you may benefit from dietary supplementation to help maintain your energy levels.

The risks of uncontrolled COPD
If you don’t follow your COPD treatment plan, you’re putting yourself at an increased risk of developing more frequent, worsening symptoms—and potentially very serious health issues.

For starters, COPD is related to a number of health complications, from respiratory infections, to lung cancer, to issues with your heart and depression. The risk for developing these complications goes up when you don’t take steps to properly manage COPD.

Quitting smoking is an essential part of your treatment plan for a reason. The main cause of COPD is smoking, and it’s no surprise that cigarette smoke can cause an existing case of COPD to worsen more quickly. It’s never too late and always important to quit smoking, because quitting can help slow the progression of the disease and prevent the loss of lung function. If you’re having trouble quitting, talk to your doctor about smoking cessation aids that may help.

Most importantly, if left untreated, COPD can cause serious, long-term disability and even death—in fact, COPD is one of the leading causes of death in the United States.

Thankfully, many of the worst outcomes of COPD can be avoided by following your COPD treatment plan.

Overcoming treatment obstacles
In many cases, the three-pronged approach to COPD management can be a lot for one person to keep track of on their own, so don’t be afraid to speak up if you need help staying on top of it all. Start with these tips:

Learn how to properly administer your medication. Many COPD medications are designed for you to breathe directly into your lungs. This is usually accomplished with the use of a device like an inhaler or a nebulizer. What makes things complicated is that there are various types of these devices available, and each works slightly differently. So if you don’t know how to use yours properly, you may not be getting the full dosage you need. It’s important to consult your healthcare provider every step of the way if you need help integrating your medication into your daily life.

Ask questions. Since COPD is a progressive disease, you may need to make adjustments to your treatment plan over time. As a result, new questions may crop up. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you need clarification on how to properly manage your condition at any step along your treatment path.

Schedule regular checkups. These visits give you a chance to discuss how well you’re managing with your doctor. Let your care team know if you’re experiencing any new or worsening symptoms or if any daily activities have become increasingly difficult to complete. If necessary, your doctor will make tweaks to your treatment plan that can help you feel better.

Stick with the plan
It’s important to remember that you need to stay on top of your COPD treatment at all times. The goal, of course, is to get you feeling and living better. But even if you start feeling better, you need to continue taking your medication as directed so that it offers its fullest benefit. It’s crucial to avoid skipping doses or stopping altogether without your doctor’s signoff, as doing so can worsen your COPD.

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