Tips for Managing COPD

By: Nicole K. Petit, MA/BA
Agewell Programs Coordinator

COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. The most common cause of COPD is cigarette smoking, about 1 in every 4 smokers develop lung disease.  COPD is a very common lung disease, affecting many adults. 12 million Americans are affected with COPD and another 12 million have not been told they have it. 

Couple walking in the woods

COPD is made up of two diseases:

  • Emphysema
  • Chronic bronchitis

These often overlap, which means that many people with COPD have both conditions. Most people with COPD begin to have symptoms between 50 and 70 years of age.  COPD can be a serious illness that can greatly affect your way of life, but together with your health care provider, you can learn ways to improve your breathing, maintain your activity levels, and slow serious progression of COPD. 

Symptoms of COPD include:

  • Shortness of breath with activity
  • Coughing often
  • Cough with mucus (phlegm)
  • Not able to keep up activity levels due to being tired or shortness of breath
  • Getting colds and nose and throat infections more often
  • Lowering your activity level because you get out of breath

 
How to find out if you have COPD

Talk with your healthcare provider and make an appointment for a physical exam and to review your medical and work history.
A number of tests may be done to evaluate your breathing including:

  • Breathing tests (also called pulmonary function tests)
  • Chest x-ray testing
  • Oxygen level measurements

Although there is no cure for COPD, symptoms can be controlled to improve quality of life. The lung damage cannot be repaired, but the symptoms of COPD can be reduced if you take action. Your quality of life can be improved, and the length of your life can be extended.

Ways you can improve COPD symptoms

  • Quit smoking
  • Get your regular flu (influenza) and pneumonia vaccines
  • Take your COPD medicines at prescribed.*
  • Exercise and good nutrition
  • Conserve your energy  
  • Reduce stress
  • Learn ways to control your breathing
  • Oxygen therapy if your health-care provider feels that’s needed
  • Manage acute COPD flare-ups (worsening episodes caused by infections)

 *Taking your medicine properly can help reduce shortness of breath, limit chest infections and hospital stays. If you have any questions about your medicines, contact your health care providers.  They will be happy to answer any questions you have.

Take back control of your health

If you, or a loved one, is living COPD, you can take back control of your health. Southern Maine Agency on Aging’s Living Well for Better Health workshops are evidence based and designed to boost participant’s confidence, improve communication with providers and family members and to lower hospital stays and emergency rooms. Workshops are free, open to the public and held one day per week for six weeks.

COPD can lead to both physical and emotional challenges and everyone can benefit from getting help sometimes. Planning for the future, managing your illness and having a better understanding of how to navigate the healthcare system are all things someone with any chronic illness could benefit from.

For a full schedule of upcoming Living Well for Better Health workshops, please contact Nicole Petit at Southern Maine Agency on Aging at npetit@smaaa.org or 207.396.6513.

"This (report/document/etc.) was supported in part by a cooperative agreement (No. 90CS0064-01-00) from the Administration on Aging (AoA), Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Grantees carrying out projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Therefore, points of view or opinions do not necessarily represent official AoA, ACL, or DHHS policy."

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