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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

  • Alternative Names

    COPD; Chronic obstructive airways disease; Chronic obstructive lung disease; Chronic bronchitis; Emphysema; Bronchitis - chronic


    There is no cure for COPD. However, there are many things you can do to relieve symptoms and keep the disease from getting worse.

    Persons with COPD must stop smoking. This is the best way to slow down the lung damage.

    Medications used to treat COPD include:

    • Inhalers (bronchodilators) to open the airways, such as ipratropium (Atrovent), tiotropium (Spiriva), salmeterol (Serevent), or formoterol (Foradil)
    • Inhaled steroids to reduce lung inflammation

    In severe cases or during flare-ups, you may need to receive steroids by mouth or through a vein (intravenously).

    Antibiotics are prescribed during symptom flare-ups, because infections can make COPD worse.

    Oxygen therapy at home may be needed if a person has a low level of oxygen in their blood. Pulmonary rehabilitation does not cure the lung disease, but it can teach you to breathe in a different way so you can stay active. Exercise programs such as pulmonary rehabilitation are also important to help maintain muscle strength in the legs so less demand is placed on the lungs when walking. These programs also teach people how to use their medicines most effectively.

    Things you can do to make it easier for yourself around the home include:

    • Avoiding very cold air
    • Making sure no one smokes in your home
    • Reducing air pollution by eliminating fireplace smoke and other irritants

    Eat a healthy diet with fish, poultry, or lean meat, as well as fruits and vegetables. If it is hard to keep your weight up, talk to a doctor or dietitian about getting foods with more calories.

    Surgical treatments may include:

    • Surgery to remove parts of the diseased lung, for some patients with emphysema
    • Lung transplant for severe cases

    Support Groups

    People often can help ease the stress of illness by joining a support group in which members share common experiences and problems.

    See also: Lung disease - support group

    Expectations (prognosis)

    This condition is a long-term (chronic) illness. The disease will get worse more quickly if one continues to smoke.

    Patients with severe COPD will be short of breath with most activities and will be admitted to the hospital more often. These patients should talk with their doctor about the use of breathing machines and end-of-life care.

    • Irregular heart beats (arrhythmias)
    • Need for breathing machine and oxygen therapy
    • Right-sided heart failure or cor pulmonale (heart swelling and heart failure due to chronic lung disease)
    • Pneumonia
    • Pneumothorax
    • Severe weight loss and malnutrition

    Calling your health care provider

    Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you have a rapid increase in shortness of breath.