Breath is life. And feeling like you can’t breathe is one of the scariest sensations in the world. That’s why Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is such a troubling diagnosis. According to the American Lung Association, COPD is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and affects 12 million Americans. There is no cure for COPD. However, you can manage it. Many patients achieve meaningful quality of life for years after diagnosis. A positive attitude, willingness to make lifestyle changes, and developing a management plan with your primary care doctor and lung specialists are vital for living with COPD.
What Is COPD?
COPD is an umbrella diagnosis encompassing several respiratory conditions. Emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and asthma fall under the COPD umbrella. Your airways become inflamed, and lung tissue becomes damaged, making breathing harder. COPD is a progressive disease and gets worse over time. Experts divide COPD into four stages:
- Mild: limited breathing is often the first sign of COPD and may be overlooked by patients.
- Moderate COPD brings chronic coughing and mucus production in addition to breathing limitations.
As breathing becomes more challenging in the severe COPD phase, daily tasks become more difficult, and patients experience a dramatic impact on their lives. Mobility may become an issue.
- End-stage COPD is defined by low blood oxygen and restricted airflow. Breathing problems become life-threatening, and patients generally require supplemental oxygen.
How Do I Know If I Have COPD?
According to the COPD Foundation, the main symptoms include:
- Increased shortness of breath
- Frequent coughing (with and without mucus)
- Tightness in the chest
If you think you have COPD, start with a visit to your primary care doctor. She’ll use lung function tests to diagnose COPD. We use a spirometer to measure how much air your lungs can hold and how fast you blow air out from your lungs. We can also use chest X-rays or CT scans to identify emphysema.
How Can I Prevent COPD?
Smoking is a significant contributing factor to COPD. However, not all COPD patients are smokers, and not everyone who smokes gets COPD. Genetic and environmental factors, including air pollution and chemicals in the workplace, can also cause conditions under the COPD umbrella. Studies suggest a link between obesity and COPD. Prevention strategies include:
- Avoid or quit smoking and tobacco use.
- Focus on good nutrition and keep your weight at healthy levels.
- Find a fitness routine you enjoy, and stick with it.
- See your primary care doctor regularly for well visits.
- Avoid chemicals and fumes in your workplace. Have conversations with your employer about safety precautions to keep your lungs healthy if you work in a potentially hazardous environment.
How Can I Treat COPD?
The number one step to prevent and treat COPD is quitting smoking. If you need help quitting, your primary care doctor can help with prescription medications and referrals to specialized therapists to break the nicotine habit. In addition, medical treatments for COPD include:
- Supplemental oxygen boosts oxygen levels in the lungs and bloodstream.
- Inhaled steroids reduce airway inflammation.
- Bronchodilator drugs relieve COPD and other respiratory conditions by relaxing the muscles around the airways and clearing mucus from your lungs.
- Oral steroids, including prednisone, can help reduce flare-ups and make breathing easier quickly.
- Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics if an infection exacerbates your condition.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation helps strengthen your lungs with breathing techniques, exercise and nutritional guidance. It’s like physical therapy for your lungs.
Can My Primary Care Doctor Help Me Manage COPD?
Most patients with COPD rely on a network of providers working together to help them live with their chronic condition. Your primary care doctor is an essential player in early diagnosis, which can help mitigate the impact of chronic illness. Your doctor can get the ball rolling with diagnosis using a spirometer and monitor lung function regularly. She can also help keep you healthy by:
- Prescribing medications and supporting your medication management.
- Helping you lose weight if needed.
- Supporting your nutrition and exercise goals and referring to a nutritionist.
- Ensuring you stay current on flu and pneumonia vaccines to promote lung health.
- Recommending a pulmonologist. Seeing a lung specialist in addition to your primary care doctor can help you address your breathing challenges and develop a comprehensive treatment plan.
At Norvinia Health, supporting patients with chronic diseases is an area of focus for Dr. Ojha. She understands the importance of a committed doctor-patient relationship for patients with chronic conditions. Dr. Ojha believes in using the latest technology and evidence-based practices to diagnose and treat COPD and provides focused care to help you manage your symptoms. Dr. Ojha can work with your pulmonologist and other specialists to keep you healthy and preserve your quality of life.