Today's Medicine

Breathing Easier With COPD

Published: April 10, 2019

So you’ve been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). You’re not alone.

COPD is a lung disease that affects roughly 11 million people in the U.S. Over time, it causes a breakdown of the airways that can cause:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Frequent coughing
  • Increased phlegm or sputum production

While living with the disease can be scary and challenging, it’s also manageable. Here’s what else you need to know:

You Need to Stop Smoking Now

In the U.S., the No. 1 cause for COPD is cigarette smoking. Smokers are 12 to 13 percent more likely to die from COPD than non-smokers. So stop smoking. I will say it over and over again. There is no better or cheaper way to slow or prevent the disease. If you don’t smoke, don’t start.

With that being said, not everyone who smokes will get COPD, and not everyone with COPD is or was a smoker. The disease can also be influenced by:

  • Secondhand smoke

  • Occupational, environmental exposures

  • Genetics

COPD Cannot Be Reversed or Cured, but It Can Be Treated

Your health care provider will take a few things into account when determining the severity of your disease. Things like:

  • Your breathing test results – how much air you can inhale or exhale and how quickly you can do so
  • Your symptoms – how bad they are, and how often you notice them
  • Your risk for exacerbation – how likely you are to experience a sudden worsening of symptoms

While proper treatment and adherence to a healthy lifestyle may improve the way you feel, your respiratory health will never return to where it was at your healthiest. COPD is a progressive disease, and it will inevitably cause irreversible damage. How fast this happens, however, may depend on you.

It’s important that you:

  • Take all your medications as prescribed, especially inhaled therapies
  • Avoid exposure to irritants or toxins that tend to worsen your symptoms
  • See your health care provider regularly

Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Support

Just because you have COPD doesn’t mean your life is over.

There’s a lot you can do, with the help of your health care provider and others, to ensure a full and rewarding life. You don’t have to go through it alone. Seeking support will help you prepare for situations you have yet to encounter and help you feel less alone.

Don’t know where to start? Give me a call. I’d be happy to help.

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About the Author

When it comes to The Meaning of Care, Dr. Adam D. Wells believes it goes deeper than medicine: “The most important thing in terms of treating a patient is remembering that they’re a person – remembering there’s more to them than their disease.”

Dr. Wells is a pulmonologist with Pulmonary Medicine Specialists at Methodist Physicians Clinic.

He received his medical degree from the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) before completing an internal medicine residency there. He was also internal medicine chief resident at UNMC/Omaha VA Medical Center and completed a pulmonary/critical care medicine fellowship at UNMC.

He was previously a pulmonologist and assistant professor at the Creighton University School of Medicine.

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