Just Diagnosed with COPD -- Your Three Next Steps

Health Professional

This is the third post in my series for people who have just recently been diagnosed with COPD. Previous posts have covered the emotional and physical changes that occur with this diagnosis. In this post, I'll give you some action steps to take to keep COPD from ruining your life.

Action is the cure to just about any problem. OK... action won't cure your COPD, but it can help you feel better and get on with the business of living. Taking action can help you manage your symptoms and slow the progress of the disease. Taking action, any action, also makes you feel more powerful and less helpless.

So, let's take a look at some of the actions you can take.

1. Do All You Can to Stop Irritating Your Lungs

Since COPD strikes most commonly in people who smoke, then obviously one of the best things you can do is quit smoking, if you haven't already. Smoking is a powerful addiction and it isn't easy to quit, but the benefits -- especially if you've already been diagnosed with COPD -- are great.

You can get lots of quit smoking tips and help right here on COPDConnection.com. Your doctor may also know of local support programs or be able to prescribe medication to help you get started. With help, you CAN quit smoking

Other irritants that can trigger your COPD symptoms might include air pollution, chemical fumes, and dust. So do all you can to keep those things out of your home. Secondhand smoke is another irritant. When air quality outside is low, stay inside with your windows closed as much as possible. If you use supplemental oxygen, you may need to turn it up or use it more often, depending on air quality. Talk with your doctor about this option.

2. Get the Best Medical Care You Can

If you can afford it or your insurance will pay for it, a consult with a pulmonary specialist, called a pulmonologist, is definitely a great idea. These experts can get you on the right track treatment-wise, even if they end up sending you back to your regular family doctor for ongoing care.

Your doctor will help you decide on the best treatments to manage your symptoms. Treatments can vary. Some people use some type of bronchodilator to expand the lungs, often in the form of an inhaler, such as Advair or Spiriva. Others take medicine via a machine called a nebulizer. You might also be prescribed a rescue inhaler to use when symptoms become severe.

People with COPD should also get yearly flu shots and periodic pneumonia shots. Preventing the flu and pneumonia can do a lot to keeping you healthy with your weakened lungs.

Part of getting great medical care is becoming your own advocate. Learn all you can about your disease and ask lots of questions. Speak up for yourself with your doctors and make sure you understand what you should be doing. Consider yourself an equal partner in your medical care.

3. Make Changes in Your Lifestyle

There's no sense in fighting reality. When you have COPD, it's going to be harder to do the things you used to do without thinking. This includes your daily living tasks, such as bathing, dressing, cooking and even eating. So, learn how to balance activity and rest wisely.

Don't push yourself to exhaustion, just so as "not to give in" to COPD. That's not smart. It will only wear you down and make symptoms worse. Instead, allow time to do things, knowing it will take longer and that you may have to take breaks during the activity to catch your breath.

Make your home more efficient, so that you can conserve energy by walking shorter distances, reaching less, bending less, etc. Buy smaller containers of food, beverages and things like laundry detergent, so that you don't wear yourself out lifting and hauling.  Some people find it helpful to use a small table or cart with wheels to move things around and a pole or tongs with long handles to reach things. When you put your mind to it, you'll find there are many energy conservation measures you can take.

These are just a few of the actions you can take right away to make living with COPD easier. In my next post, I'll go into more detail about some of the other things you can do to live a quality life with COPD.

Just Diagnosed Series:

Part 1: Coping With the Shock

Part 2: What to Expect Physically

This Post: Your Next Steps

Part 4: How to Live a Full Life