Can COPD Be Reversed?

Can COPD Be Reversed?

The lung damage caused by COPD is irreversible, but making important lifestyle changes and complying with COPD treatment can slow the progression of the disease, sometimes dramatically.

Which Lifestyle Changes are Important in COPD?

While your lifestyle may have played a critical role in the development of COPD, it also plays an important role in the treatment of COPD. The following lifestyle changes are recommended to help you improve your symptoms and better-manage the disease:

Smoking Cessation

Quitting smoking is the single-most important lifestyle modification that you can make if you have COPD and continue to smoke. Once you quit, your lung function decline slows dramatically and may actually normalize, meaning it will decline at the same rate as anyone else of the same sex, age, height and weight.[1] Now that’s a great reason to quit!

Getting Regular Exercise

The importance of regular exercise is one of the most overlooked aspects of COPD treatment. Not only can regular exercise improve how well your body utilizes oxygen, decrease your symptoms and improve your breathing, it can also strengthen your heart, decrease your blood pressure and improve your circulation.[2] Which type of exercises are best for people with COPD? According to the Cleveland Clinic, exercise can be divided into three basic forms: stretching (mainly the arm and leg muscles), strengthening (with free weights or stretchy bands) and aerobic (walking, jogging, bicycling, etc.).[3]

Eating a Healthy Diet

A healthy diet won’t cure COPD, but it will give you more energy and help you feel better. Being overweight with COPD causes your heart and lungs to have to work harder which may impact your breathing. Being underweight with COPD may cause you to feel weak and tired, which may also affect your breathing. Eating the right amount of a variety of foods from each of the five food groups will help you get the nutrients you need for a well-balanced COPD diet.

Avoiding Further Exposure to Airway Irritants

Continued exposure to airway irritants such as tobacco smoke, dust, chemicals or fumes in the workplace and indoor and outdoor air pollution can exacerbate COPD symptoms and worsen COPD. Avoiding further exposure to airway irritants is key to preventing COPD flare-ups and improving your condition.

Complying with COPD Treatment

COPD treatment can help slow the progression of the disease (smoking cessation only) and improve quality of life with COPD. The following should be included in a COPD treatment regimen:

The Importance of COPD Medications

Currently, there are no medications that can modify the progression of lung function decline seen in COPD. But, COPD medications can help improve COPD symptoms, reduce the frequency and severity of COPD flare-ups and improve quality of life. Medications for COPD include bronchodilators, corticosteroids, phosphodiesterase inhibitors and antibiotics (used only for bacterial infections associated with COPD).4

Getting Vaccinated

Annual flu shots are recommended to reduce the risk of serious illness and death in COPD. Pneumonia vaccines help prevent pneumococcal pneumonia and are recommended for COPD patients 65 years of age and older and younger COPD patients with co-existing illnesses such as heart disease.

The Benefits of Oxygen Therapy in COPD

By far the most important benefit of oxygen therapy is that, when used for more than 15 hours a day, it increases survival in some COPD patients.[4] Oxygen therapy also improves exercise tolerance, increases mental alertness, improves sleep and mood and increases stamina. But not every COPD patient needs supplemental oxygen. If your oxygen saturation level, as measured by pulse oximetry, is less than or equal to 88% at rest or your partial pressure of oxygen (PaO2), as measured by an arterial blood gas study, is at or below 55 mg Hg, you are likely to need oxygen therapy and should talk to your primary health care provider about prescribing it.4

Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehabilitation has been found to improve exercise tolerance, reduce shortness of breath and improve quality of life in all COPD stages.[5] If performing regular exercise at home is difficult for you, talk to your health care provider about enrolling in a formal pulmonary rehabilitation program.

What about Lung Surgery?

Lung surgery in COPD is reserved for a select group of patients with severe disease in whom standard medical treatment has failed to alleviate symptoms. There are four types of lung surgery for COPD: lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS), bronchoscopic lung volume reduction (BLVR), lung transplantation and bullectomy.4 If you think you’re a candidate for lung surgery, talk to your health care provider as soon as possible to see if you meet the criteria.

[1] David M. Mannino, Matthew M. Reichert and Kourtney J. Davis. “Lung Function Decline and Outcomes in an Adult Population”. The Am. J. Respir. Crit. Care Med., Vol 173. pp. 985-990, (2006).

[2] WebMD.  COPD and Exercise:Breathing and Exercise Programs for COPD. Last reviewed July 11, 2014.

[3] Cleveland Clinic. “COPD Exercise and Activity Guidelines”. Last reviewed June 8, 2015.

[4] Global Strategy for Diagnosis, Management and Prevention of COPD – 2016. Updated December, 2015.

[5] Rainer Gloeckl, Blagoi Marinov, Fabio Pitta. “Practical recommendations for exercise training in patients with COPD”. European Respiratory Review Jun 2013, 22 (128) 178-186; DOI: 10.1183/09059180.00000513.

By Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN


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