Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, cannot be cured, but lifestyle changes and treatments can relieve symptoms, slow progress of the disease, and prevent complications. Dr. Patel, can you tell us more?
Absolutely, Dr. Green. Most people with COPD have a history of smoking, and quitting smoking is the most important thing they can do to treat their condition. Other lung irritants, such as secondhand smoke, dust, fumes, and other toxic substances, should also be avoided as much as possible.
Although it can be difficult to remain active with symptoms of COPD, such as shortness of breath and fatigue, physical activity can actually strengthen the muscles involved in breathing and improve overall wellness. Patients with COPD should talk to their provider about what types of activity are safe.
In addition to these lifestyle changes, pulmonary rehabilitation may be recommended to help improve overall well-being. Pulmonary rehab may include an exercise program, disease management training, and nutritional and psychological counseling.
In cases of severe COPD, oxygen therapy can help patients breathe better and maintain healthy levels of oxygen in the blood. For this treatment, oxygen is delivered through nasal prongs or a mask. Some people may benefit from extra oxygen all the time, while others may only need it at certain times, such as during sleep, to prevent long-term complications.
Vaccinations against pneumococcal disease are another important part of managing COPD. Patients with COPD are at increased risk for pneumococcal disease, and pneumonia is more likely to cause life-threatening respiratory failure in this population.
These interventions may be enough to slow the progress of COPD and relieve symptoms. But when they aren't enough, a provider may recommend medications or, as a last resort, surgery.