The following was originally published at healthcentral.com/copd on February 19, 2014.
So your doctor recently diagnosed you with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and now you’re wondering: “Can I live a normal life with this disease?” Surely you will need to make some changes in your life, but that does not mean you will have to stop doing all the things you enjoy. Here are 10 tips to help you live an active life with COPD.
1. Find the right doctor. Finding a good doctor who is knowledgeable about your disease is perhaps the single most important step to good COPD control. This doctor should be someone you feel comfortable with, someone who will work with you in order to find the best means of keeping you healthy. You’ll want to see this doctor regularly, and you’ll want to heed their advice to the best of your ability.
2. Educate yourself. It’s also essential that you learn as much as you can about your disease, and this goes above and beyond what you learn from your physician. There are many websites dedicated to COPD, such as the American Lung Association, the COPD Foundation, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can also learn from fellow COPDers at blogs like COPD News of the Day. If you’re not Internet savvy, there are hundreds of books on the subject, such as COPD for Dummies (trust me, you’re no dummy if you read it) and The Complete Guide to Understanding and Living with COPD: From a COPDer's Perspective. Most doctor’s offices, health departments, and medical institutions have access to handouts and pamphlets. Of course you’re also welcome to stick around HealthCentral, where we have a team dedicated to helping you learn about your disease.
3. Join a support group. Even as you are learning about your disease, it is still helpful to meet people who are living with it. These are people going through the same things you are. It’s also a way of forming lasting friendships while learning about your disease in the process. Again, there is no shortage of COPD support groups. The American Lung Association lists a few. There are also a variety of blogs created by COPDers just like you. Here's a list of COPD blogs. You’re also welcome to hang around our community as well.
4. Make lifestyle changes. There’s no doubt you’ll have to make some changes if you want to control your COPD. Yet you should look at change as a good thing. For instance, if you didn’t do so already, you will be told to quit smoking. You’ll probably be told to eat better and get a flu shot annually. You’ll probably be prescribed medicine you must take every day to control your disease. You’ll be told to avoid places where you’re likely to be exposed to things that might make your breathing worse, such as pollutants, dusts, fumes, and strong smells. These are all good changes that will make your life better.
5. Learn your symptoms: Your body will tell you, even before you start to feel sick, that something is wrong. These cues, once you learn to spot them, will help you take early action to prevent a COPD flare-up. Examples of such cues (symptoms) are: more winded than usual, decreased energy, increased phlegm, colorful phlegm, swelling of ankles, using your rescue medicine (albuterol) more frequently, your rescue medicine is not working, your cough is worse or more frequent, or you have trouble eating. These are all signs that you will need to refer to your COPD action plan and take immediate action.
6. COPD Action Plan: This is a plan you and your doctor will work as a team to create. It is tailored specifically for you. When you feel your symptoms, you will refer to this plan to help you decide what action to take. Every time you see your doctor you should review this plan, and update it as necessary. Go tolung.org. for more information.
7. Stick with your plan. Pay attention to what your body is telling you. If you feel any symptoms whatsoever, refer to your plan as to what action to take. If you still don’t feel right, call your doctor or call 911.
8. Take your medicines. You’ll have to work with your doctor to find the right combination of medicines that work best for you. Oxygen is also considered a medicine. It is your responsibility to take your medicines exactly as prescribed every day to breathe well, and live a normal life with this disease. Part of your plan may require you to step up treatment when you observe your symptoms, such as to wear your oxygen all day instead of just at night, or take breathing treatments every four hours instead of just twice a day. While it may not feel normal to take medicine every day, it’s more often than not a needed step to good COPD control.
9. Seek help when necessary. Regardless of how educated you are, or how compliant you are with your medicine and oxygen, there may still be times when your disease will get the best of you. Do not waiver in seeking help when the actions you take at home are not working. Do not wait until your breathing is out of control before you seek help. It’s better to seek help on a gut feeling than to wait too long. There are many people eager to help you when you need it, and to help you feel comfortable knowing you made the right choice.
10. Stay active as best you can. Keeping your body active helps keep your heart and lungs strong and your breathing easy. Simply walking around your home, or walking through a store, or through a park, is considered exercise. There are many programs called pulmonary rehabilitation set up to help people just like you get the exercise you need. Chances are all you need to do is talk to your doctor, and they will hook you up with such a program in your area. Participating in such a program is also another way of meeting people just like you. To learn more check out the Cleveland Clinic.
The Bottom Line: Getting the diagnosis of COPD may be discouraging, but it doesn’t have to stop you from living your life. Following the tips outlined here should set you on a path to good COPD control, thus allowing you to breathe easy.
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