Young with COPD Part II: What To Do After Diagnosis
In Part I we met Dave, who was just told he had COPD. Here is Part II with commonly asked questions about being Young with COPD.
If I am diagnosed with COPD at a young age, what's the first thing I should do?
The first thing you should do if you've been diagnosed with COPD (at any age) is to get tested for Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, a genetic cause of COPD, that can lead to advanced COPD for people in their 20's, 30's, and 40's.
If you test positive for Alpha-1deficiency, Contact expert resources on that disease such as the Alpha-1 Foundation and the Alpha-1 Association. There, you'll learn about testing for your family, special therapy to slow the progression of your disease and much more.
What can I do now?
Whether you test positive or negative for Alpha-1 deficiency, there are many things you can do to live a healthy, happy and full life. Here are just a few:
If you smoke, quit. If you're having trouble quitting, be honest with your doctor and try different methods of quitting until something works. It's never too late to quit. On Page 92 of this article published in The Canadian Journal of Diagnosis in 2006, Alan Kaplan, MD has a graph that explains the progression of COPD at different ages for smokers and non-smokers. Take a look. Quitting now will still make a difference.
Exercise...the right way
Enroll in pulmonary rehabilitation. I'm always amazed, and disheartened, when a younger person with COPD says they're "not ready" for pulmonary rehab. How can you not be ready to learn how you can have as much strength, flexibility and endurance as possible -specifically adapted to your chronic disease? Find a pulmonary rehab clinic near you and get going!
Find resources for Education and Support
Learn all you can about COPD by signing up for newsletters, attend lung education events, be in touch with others with your disease (both in person and online) and volunteer to help at lung health events. You are not alone in having COPD.
COPD - no matter what the cause - is a chronic disease, which means you're always going to have it. If you take care of yourself it should be stable and you'll have many days of easy breathing. But, you must understand it's not going to go away.
Avoid getting really sick
There are ways to lessen your chance of picking up nasty bugs from a bacteria or a virus which may lead to getting very sick (having an acute exacerbation). And there are methods to stop the serious effects an infection has on your respiratory system. Staying stable and well is especially important for people with COPD, and once you know the tricks, you can stay more healthy, more of the time. Read this post about the vaccines a person with COPD should have every winter.
Involve your family
Talk with your family about COPD, invite them to join you at Pulmonary Rehab, Better Breathers' Club and other lung health education events so they can better understand what you're experiencing. They want to help you. Don't leave them out. COPD is a family disease, in more ways than one.
Ask about advanced methods of treatment
Find out from a lung specialist if you meet the criteria for transplant, lung volume reduction surgery or other interventions for COPD.
Do your best to look on the bright side. You can live a good life with COPD.
Don't Forget,You're Still You
So, what about Dave? Remember his idea of the typical person with COPD? I hope he learned that it doesn't have to be that way - that he doesn't have to look at himself as only a "COPD'er." He's still the same great guy - just one who happens to have lungs with COPD. This is not the beginning of the end for him, but simply the beginning...the first step in taking on a new challenge - the challenge of living well with COPD. How about you?
Jane M. Martin is a licensed respiratory therapist and teacher, the founder and director of Breathing Better, Living Well and author of Breathe Better, Live in Wellness.