Healthy – and Happy – with “End Stage” COPD?

  • Last time we talked about "end stage" COPD, what it is and what it means for you. We learned that in spite of what it sounds like, "end stage" is not a death sentence! On the contrary, you can live for many years with this diagnosis.


    You may be thinking, "If end stage doesn't mean the end of my world, then what does it mean? How can I make the most of my life now - and for the rest of my life?"


    Maybe the most important thing to remember that as far as your day-to-day life goes, life with severe COPD might not be the same life you once had, but that doesn't mean it can't be a good life. There are many things you can do to make your life healthy, joyful and even fun when you have "end-stage" COPD. Here are just a few.

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    Stay Well

    COPD is a disease, but not necessarily an illness. Yes, you have this disease, but that doesn't mean you have to be sick. The most important thing you can do when you have severe COPD is to avoid what we call an "acute exacerbation" of COPD - a bad episode of worse breathing and serious illness.  You can do this by 1.) Knowing your triggers (things that make your breathing suddenly worse) and 2.) Recognizing early warning signs (signals that you might be headed for an acute exacerbation).  If you know what to watch for, you have a much better chance of staying healthy, avoiding pneumonia and staying out of the hospital. We'll talk more about this in a future post.


    Quit Smoking

    If you were a smoker and you've already quit, good for you! If you haven't, you may be thinking, "What the heck, it's too late anyway."

    Please know this - it's never too late to quit! Stopping smoking at any time slows lung disease progression. If you're struggling with weight loss, quitting smoking will help you keep those much-needed pounds on board. If you quit, your cough will decrease and you'll be better able to fight infections. If you slip back and start smoking again, just make a new plan, get back up on that horse and try again. Don't give up! You can do it!

    (Find tips on quitting the smoking habit)


    Be Informed

    Don't be at the mercy of the mystery of lung disease! Take control of your life by learning what's going on in your lungs. Learn correct breathing techniques. Make sure you know exactly how your inhalers work (which ones are maintenance and which ones are rescuers), and how to get as much benefit from them as possible. Be skeptical of treatments or remedies that claim to cure your disease. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! People with COPD who seek information and learn from it do far better than those who don't.


    Connect with Others

    Isolating yourself and being anxious and depressed can make you feel even worse. There's more to life than sitting in your chair and watching TV. Here are three ways to connect with others for education and support. Choose at least one - you'll be so glad you did!


    1. Get into Pulmonary Rehab

    As much as you might be tempted to shuffle over to your recliner, plop down and stay there, don't do it! Pulmonary Rehabilitation is a program of exercise and education especially designed for people with COPD. In pulmonary rehab you'll gain strength, stamina, and flexibility, learn about your lungs and how to stay as healthy as possible. You'll learn how breathe the right way, how to pace yourself, conserve energy, how to eat right, and relax. You will learn about exercise and activity - what is safe and what is not - and what you should or shouldn't do to stay as healthy as possible. To start, you need a doctor's order and a lung function test done within the last year. If your doctor or respiratory staff at your local hospital doesn't know where the nearest Pulmonary Rehab program is located, check with the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation by visiting the AACVPR website.


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    2. Join a Better Breathers' Club

    At a Better Breathers' support group you will learn from guest speakers about staying healthy with COPD and meet people with similar concerns. Your spouse or support person might also connect with somebody who understands the unique issues of a caregiver/well spouse. Attending a breathing support group is free of charge and does not require a doctor's order. For the breathing support group nearest you call your local hospital, oxygen supply company, or go to the American Lung Association website. Click on "COPD Center" and go to Better Breathers Clubs. (


    3. Join an OnLine COPD community

    You can find lots of information and support online. On these websites and on line communities you will find not only loads of solid information about living well with COPD but also folks just like you who are living every day with severe COPD. Forums are open 24 hours a day to ask questions, find encouragement and support, and even share a laugh! HealthCentral's is one of those sites. Another website with information, an online community and more is Go to the links page for more lung support sites.  Don't go it alone! Becoming part of a group; Pulmonary Rehab, Better Breathers' or on line will lighten your load, help you feel better and breathe easier.


    In my next sharepost we'll talk about more you can do day-to-day to be happy and healthy with end-stage COPD.



Published On: August 19, 2009