COPD- When to call you primary care provider (PCP) or go to the Emergency room if your breathing gets worse.

By: Karin Doehne (Internal Medicine), Nathan Mick (Assistant Chief of Emergency Medicine)Heidi Wierman (Division Director of Geriatrics)

When you have COPD or emphysema, it is important to monitor your symptoms carefully and to get medical help when your symptoms are getting worse.  Sudden changes in symptoms, like if you are short of breath are best treated in the Emergency Department.  Symptoms that are changing or getting worse slowly over time should be treated by your primary care physician.  Below are examples of symptoms that can help you decide if you should go see your PCP or if you should go to an Emergency Room.

Symptoms to call to your PCP about:

  • More breathless than usualDoc visit
  • Less energy for your daily activities
  • Increased amounts or change in consistency of your phlegm/mucus
  • Needing to use your rescue inhaler or nebulizer more often
  • Coughing more than usual
  • Feel like you have a “chest cold”
  • Awakening at night due to breathing problems
  • Feeling like your medicine is no longer helping

Symptoms to call 911 or seek care at the Emergency room:

  • Severe shortness of breath (with rest or activities)
  • Unable to do any activities because of your breathing
  • Unable to sleep because of your breathing
  • Fever or shaking chills
  • Confusion or drowsiness
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pains

For help managing COPD conditions at home, please consider the following:

MaineHealth Care at Home
Toll-free: 1-800-660-4876

For help with chronic disease self-management resources, please consider the following:

Southern Maine Agency on Aging
Toll-free: 1-207-396-6500

The health educators at the Learning Resource Center are happy to help. They provide trusted & reliable health information and connect people to local resources in the community. Connect with a health educator today! Be well, be well informed.

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