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Breathing Free with COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is often neglected by people until it has reached an advanced stage. They mistakenly believe the symptoms, such as being short of breath or having a chronic cough, are just part of growing older.

This neglect can have devastating consequences when the symptoms become severe enough that even the most basic tasks, such as taking a walk or washing and dressing, become difficult and exhausting.

"Clearly, the sooner COPD is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat," says Norman Edelman, M.D., chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. "Lung damage from COPD is irreversible, but there are treatments that can improve the quality of life of people with the condition."

COPD treatment is different for each person and is based on whether the symptoms are mild, moderate, or severe. If you or a loved one has COPD, ask your doctor which of the following treatments are right for you.

Quit smoking

Approximately 80 to 90 percent of COPD deaths are caused by smoking, and smokers are nearly 12 times as likely to die of COPD, compared with nonsmokers.

"Stopping smoking is non-negotiable," Dr. Edelman says. "Doing so is the single most effective way to slow this disease's progression."

Prescription medication

Medication can improve and prevent COPD symptoms and reduce the frequency and severity of flare-ups. Bronchodilators are used to help open the airways in the lungs and decrease shortness of breath. Inhaled or oral steroids can help decrease inflammation in the airways.

Try rehab

Pulmonary rehabilitation programs can help people learn to breathe properly, exercise to stay strong, and manage the disease.

"Rehab can help people stay active and make a real difference in their lives," Dr. Edelman says.

Oxygen therapy

Some people with severe COPD require extra oxygen. Portable oxygen concentrators allow people to perform tasks and activities with less shortness of breath and sleep longer, which improves alertness during the day.

Get vaccinated

The flu and pneumonia can cause serious problems for people with COPD. Ask your doctor which vaccines you need.

"COPD is a serious disease, but not one that's without hope," Dr. Edelman says. "Seeking early treatment and sticking with it can help people live longer and live well."

Online Medical Reviewer: Blink, Robert MD
Date Last Reviewed: 1/6/2009
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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