Five Things You Must Know if you Have COPD

Health Professional

Let's face

it.   If you're in the dark about your COPD - if you don't understand what it is and what it means for you, you're not doing yourself any favors. There's a lot to learn when you have COPD, and there are many, many things you can do each day to breathe as well as possible, and stay as healthy and active as possible. But if I had to boil it down to the first five things your should know about COPD, here they are.

Know what you're up against
If you think you might have COPD, ask your doctor about being tested. Then, if you find out you do, know that it's important to learn what COPD is and how it affects your lungs. It helps to understand what's going on in there. And once you do, you can begin to regain control of your breathing - and your life. Read about facing COPD and moving forward.
Understand how your medicines work
A homecare nurse once told me a story about one of her patients with COPD. She was about to end her visit when she saw from across the room a very large ashtray (yes, an ashtray) filled to overflowing with a variety of inhalers. She asked her patient about the use of his inhalers, and he said, "Oh" when I feel tight I just take a couple puffs off this one and that one or another one until I start to feel better."

Yikes! Not exactly what you'd call effective use of inhaled breathing medications!
When I ask patients what their inhalers do, they almost always respond by saying, "They open up my lungs." Well, yes, that's true, but what's really important for all patients with COPD to know and understand is that there are different types of medicines that open the airways in different ways. Here's an article explaining different types of breathing medications and how they work.

Learn and practice correct breathing techniques
"You mean you're going to teach me how to breathe? What do you think I've been doing all my life?"

When you have COPD, changes take place in your lungs, causing you to breathe ineffectively. This can mean you're working really hard to move air, using a whole lot of energy and oxygen when you don't have a whole lot of energy and oxygen to spare. Once you learn the mechanics of why you can't breathe, you'll be better able to take action on how you can breathe better. Learning proper breathing techniques really does make a difference.

Learn about Pursed Lips and Diaphragmatic Breathing.

Know early warning signs to stay healthy
Frequent exacerbations (a sudden worsening of COPD symptoms that can lead to serious illness) are all too common in COPD. While those with healthy lungs can shake off a cold and get over it within a week, for you it can be a major illness - maybe even pneumonia. But, it doesn't have to be this way.

If you're trying to ignore your COPD, you may be treating each exacerbation as an isolated case, just another "bout of bronchitis." Doing so is treating symptoms - not treating COPD. Repeated exacerbations can cause further lung damage and a decline in overall health.

On the other hand, failure to treat COPD symptoms at all denies you the opportunity to benefit from helpful medications, education, support, and exercise that can extend and improve the quality of life. So, not understanding COPD can cause you to seek not only less care, but perhaps more. Learn more about avoiding acute exacerbations.

Pacing Yourself
Out of all the things you have to deal with when you have COPD, simply getting from here - to there - with breath to spare is probably the most difficult. You may think that the best way to get from your car to the door of the grocery store - or maybe just from your easy chair to the bathroom - is to go as fast as you can, then plop down, poop out, and gasp for breath. Hurrying and rushing will get you into trouble with your breathing every time. Learning to pace is difficult, and it takes practice, but it can be done! We'll talk more about pacing in an upcoming sharepost.

So yes, what you don't know can hurt you! But what you do know, can help you. It can help a lot! Learn all you can about COPD, understand it, and you'll discover ways to breathe easier and get on with your life.

Jane M. Martin is a licensed respiratory therapist, teacher and the founder and director of and author of Breathe Better, Live in Wellness and Live Your Life With COPD, scheduled for release Spring, 2011.