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National Jewish Medical and Research Center
1400 Jackson St., Denver, Colorado 80206 - 303/388-4461
Call for information: LUNG LINE® - - 800/222-LUNG (5864)

Med Facts
 From National Jewish Medical and Research Center, 1400 Jackson Street, Denver, Colorado 80206

 Management of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

What is COPD?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD for short, is a progressive lung disease that affects millions of people each year. COPD is a general term used to describe specific diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Emphysema involves destruction of the walls of the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs. This results in a smaller number of larger air sacs that have poor gas exchange capabilities. Chronic bronchitis is characterized by a chronic cough and chronic mucus production without another known cause. A person with COPD may have either emphysema or chronic bronchitis, but most have both. Some people with COPD may also have an "asthma-like" or reactive component to their pulmonary disease.

What are the Goals of Treatment?

At National Jewish, health care professionals believe people with COPD can lead active and full lives. By diagnosing the disease early, treating symptoms, reducing the risk of complications and educating patients and families about COPD, doctors and nurses hope to improve the patients' quality of life. Our goal is to help people with COPD take charge of their breathing and regain or maintain control of their lives.

How is COPD Managed?

People with COPD must become actively involved in the management of their disease. Participating in the treatment plan will help people with COPD and their families achieve the best possible results.

Exercise and Healthy Lifestyle

An exercise or conditioning program is one of the most important aspects of managing COPD. Regular exercise can enable you to improve your overall strength and endurance. By improving general fitness, respiratory muscles are strengthened. This improves your ability to perform activities despite shortness of breath. Many people with COPD enjoy walking, water aerobics and riding a stationary bike. Another important step in managing COPD is quitting smoking. If you smoke, this action is the single most important thing you can do to help stabilize your disease and prevent further damage to your lungs. Quitting smoking is a difficult task, ask your health care provider about smoking cessation programs and services that may be helpful. In addition, avoid exposure to tobacco smoke, whenever possible. This will help decrease irritation to your lungs.

Because poor nutrition is common for people with COPD, it is very important to eat a well-balanced diet and maintain a healthy weight. Shortness of breath and fatigue can interfere with your ability to eat a balanced diet. If you have special dietary needs discuss this with a health care professional.

Avoid Infection

Because people with COPD have an increased risk of respiratory infection, vaccines are generally recommended. You can receive the influenza vaccine and pneumonia vaccine to help prevent infection. Good hand washing can also help prevent the spread of germs and infections.

Medication Therapy

Your health care professional may prescribe medications to control the symptoms of COPD. Bronchodilators help open the airways in the lungs and decrease shortness of breath. Inhaled or oral steroids may help decrease inflammation in the airways in some people. Antibiotics are often used to treat infections. For some people, expectorants can help clear mucus from the airways.

Bronchial Hygiene

In addition to medications, practicing good bronchial hygiene can help you get rid of mucus in your airways. Some people may benefit from chest physiotherapy. Treating the patient in certain positions and clapping on their chest and back can help some patients cough up thick mucus.

Breathing Retraining

Learning new breathing techniques, will help you move more air in and out with less effort. This helps decrease shortness of breath. Diaphragmatic breathing, pursed lips breathing and pacing your activities can be easily learned.

Oxygen Therapy

Some people with COPD may benefit from supplemental oxygen. Supplemental oxygen is necessary when there is not enough oxygen in the blood. Some people with COPD need oxygen only with activity or while sleeping. Many people with COPD need oxygen continuously, twenty-four hours a day. To achieve the maximum benefit, use your supplemental oxygen exactly as prescribed.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation

A comprehensive pulmonary rehabilitation program includes medical and nursing management, education, physical conditioning, nutrition counseling and consideration of psychological and social needs. A successful pulmonary rehabilitation program (such as the program offered by National Jewish) addresses the needs of each person and tailors the treatment to meet those needs.

Because of the many aspects and complexities involved in the care and management of patients with COPD, National Jewish has established a COPD rehabilitation clinic. In addition to ongoing state-of-the-art clinical care, doctors are also conducting studies in advancing the care of people with COPD.

Note: This information is provided to you as an educational service of National Jewish. It is not meant to be a substitute for consulting with your own physician.

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