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Sharp Health News

Tips for living with COPD

Nov. 15, 2018

Tips for people with COPD

Imagine what it would feel like if your head was held underwater and you couldn’t get a full breath, or if you were so exhausted that you couldn’t muster up the energy for daily activities like laundry or grocery shopping. This is what life is like for many people living with COPD — but it doesn’t have to be that way.

What is COPD?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive lung disease that, over time, makes it increasingly difficult to breathe. Each year 12 million U.S. adults are diagnosed with COPD, and 120,000 die from it. Another 12 million are thought to have undiagnosed COPD.

COPD includes two main conditions: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. In emphysema, the air sacs in the lungs are damaged and enlarged, causing breathlessness and preventing the body from getting the oxygen it needs. With chronic bronchitis, the lining of the airways is constantly inflamed, causing the lining to swell and produce more mucus, which makes it hard to breathe.

You can take steps to prevent COPD before it starts
The best way to prevent COPD is to not start smoking or quit smoking. Those who already have COPD can take steps to prevent complications and slow the progression of the disease, including pulmonary rehabilitation.

Mary Ann Penales, registered respiratory therapist and COPD navigator at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, offers the following tips for people with COPD:

Learn how COPD affects your breathing and life in general.
A COPD diagnosis is not a death sentence. There are many ways to control symptoms so you can feel better, be productive and enjoy life as normally as possible. Empower yourself by using the education, tools and resources provided by your doctor or health care provider.

Avoid triggers — if you smoke, quit now.
Smoking is the leading cause of COPD. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit. If you have trouble quitting on your own, consider joining a support group.

Stay active and exercise regularly.
Regular exercise improves the muscle strength needed for breathing and blood circulation. Pulmonary rehabilitation programs provide an exercise regimen tailored to your needs, as well as education on breathing techniques and reducing breathing problems.

Create an action plan.
Work with your health care provider to develop a COPD action plan. These steps and goals should be realistic, achievable, and ones to which you can easily adhere.

Control your breathing, learn to relax and conserve your energy.
Stress and anxiety can trigger breathlessness. Seek out activities that can relax your mind and body, such as yoga, meditation and listening to relaxing music.

Use oxygen during the day and a breathing machine at night.
When you have COPD, if clinically indicated, your health care provider may prescribe oxygen to help you perform your daily activities and travel. A CPAP/BiPAP unit (non-invasive ventilator) may be beneficial to promote better sleep or manage hypercapnia, elevated carbon dioxide levels caused by inadequate breathing.

If you have COPD, talk with your doctor about whether pulmonary rehabilitation might be right for you.

For the news media: To talk with Mary Ann Penales about COPD for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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