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A COPD diagnosis can leave you overwhelmed, but asking the right questions can help. Keep in mind that COPD has a variety of stages and treatments, so it is important to stay informed. Make sure you fully understand what you should do to help maintain your health and keep your COPD from progressing. Here are some questions to ask your doctor, and information to help you stay in the best health possible.
Finding out what caused your COPD is essential to ensuring that you do not make it worse. Exposure to damaging lung irritants is almost always the cause of COPD, and in the United States, smoking is the number one cause of COPD. As such, if you still smoke you should quit right away. Other lung irritants like secondhand smoke, chemical fumes, environmental dust and debris or other air pollution, whether found outdoors, at home or at work, are other common causes. Additionally, asthma or a genetic condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency can eventually cause you to develop COPD. If you can establish the cause of your COPD, you can better manage your disease and avoid the irritants that may have caused it in the first place.
The severity of your COPD and symptoms is measured in stages via spirometry test and other markers. COPD has four stages, with the final stage often called “end-stage COPD.” Here is a brief description of each stage and what to expect. Your doctor will diagnose the stage of your COPD and tell you more specifically what that means for you.
Stop exposure to the original damaging irritant. In many cases, this is cigarette smoke, so it is essential to stop smoking right away if you are diagnosed with COPD. If you were exposed to lung irritants in the workplace, outside or in your home and cannot eliminate them entirely, minimize your exposure as much as possible. In addition, talk to your doctor about breathing techniques and physical exercises to keep your lungs and breathing muscles flexible and working properly. Regular exercise also helps keep your blood and muscles oxygenated, which reduces feelings of breathlessness. Pulmonary rehabilitation is extremely beneficial, teaching you a variety of breathing techniques, coughing techniques and physical exercises, along with providing nutritional and mental health counseling to give you a well-rounded therapy program that treats your symptoms and helps you manage your disease. Ensure that you get your flu and pneumonia vaccines, too, to reduce the risk of infections that cause COPD exacerbations. Finally, oxygen therapy is often beneficial for improving your oxygen intake and helping you continue to exercise and remain active without struggling for breath.
Improving the health of your lungs begins with smoking cessation, if you are a smoker, and minimizing your exposure to other lung irritants as much as possible. After that, can significantly improve your ability to breathe effectively and helps improve your strength and ability to exercise. Pulmonary rehabilitation also reduces the anxiety, depression and stress that often accompany COPD, along with reducing hospitalization time and total hospitalizations per year. Overall, pulmonary rehab helps improve your lung function, your quality of life and your survival rate, so you can live and breathe better. In severe cases, doctors may recommend certain lung surgeries to remove damaged lung tissue so that the lungs work better.
Only your health care team can decide if pulmonary rehabilitation is right for you. Generally speaking, if you are responding well to other treatments, including medication or oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehab is likely to be beneficial. However, if you are already struggling with worsening symptoms—particularly during exercise or physical activity—it may be best to wait. Your doctor will be able to help you make the right choice for your health and COPD.
Though not every patient with COPD will need oxygen therapy, many COPD patients benefit from oxygen treatment—particularly in the later stages of the disease. Your doctor will decide whether oxygen therapy is right for you with a number of tests. They will want to measure the oxygen in your blood with a pulse oximeter test and/or arterial blood gas test to see how well your lungs are functioning and whether your current COPD treatments are working sufficiently. They may also choose to administer a diffusion capacity test, or DLCO, to test your lungs and see how well the alveoli and pulmonary capillary blood transfer gases between them. If the results of these tests indicate that you are getting insufficient oxygen, your doctor may recommend oxygen therapy to help improve your oxygen saturation.
If you are using your medication as prescribed and following the directions your health care team provided, the answer is probably yes. However, if you feel like your medication is not working as effectively as it should, or is less effective than it used to be, see your doctor. It may be that you are using an inhaler, nebulizer or oxygen delivery system incorrectly. Ask your doctor to demonstrate how to use any of these correctly, and to watch you use them, in order to ensure that you’re using the equipment properly and getting the maximum therapeutic benefit.
The great news is that COPD symptoms develop slowly, and they can be managed and treated effectively with the right care. COPD will impact your life, but you can continue to live as normally as possible if you take good care of yourself and stick to the treatments and exercises prescribed to you. Follow your health care team’s recommendations, and you can retain your quality of life for quite some time. When symptoms progress, medication, pulmonary rehabilitation, the proper exercises and oxygen therapy can all help you maintain your quality of life. Ask your doctor if Inogen’s small, lightweight, portable oxygen concentrators are right for managing your COPD symptoms and contact us today to find out how Inogen can help improve your freedom, independence and mobility.