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COPD Health Center

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11 Breathing Tips for People With COPD

What to do for better breathing if you have COPD.

10. Get oxygen therapy if your COPD is severe.

The one daily treatment that is proven to prolong life for people with severe COPD is oxygen, Dweik says. Studies have borne this out. Two large clinical trials found that people with severe COPD may live twice as long as patients with severe COPD who don’t use oxygen.

Benefits aren’t proven for people with mild COPD.

Many patients don’t like it because it is inconvenient or looks unattractive, but when oxygen goes down, it strains and can damage the heart, Dweik says.

11. Learn about lung transplant surgery.

Four years ago, Olson had a right lung transplant. His odds of survival weren’t great -- he was extremely weak and just barely weighed enough to be viable for the operation -- but he chose to have the surgery anyway.

Three days after the transplant he was no longer using oxygen. By the time he left the hospital, he was walking a mile. He has no more symptoms of COPD and was around for the birth of his granddaughter. He has walked a 5k race and has plans to take part in three more this summer.

There are two main types of surgery performed on people with COPD. First is a lung transplant like Olson received. Second is lung volume reduction surgery where the damaged lung tissue is removed to make the lungs work more efficiently.

For Olson, the lung transplant was life-saving. But it is not for everyone. Dweik says it is a relatively rare surgery and only an option for certain people with COPD. There is a “transplant window - you can’t be too sick, but you have to be sick enough,” he says. A doctor can help determine if someone is eligible for surgery.

There are also risks involved in lung transplants. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, patient survival rates are about 78% the first year after surgery, 63% after three years, and 51% five years out. Also, medications taken to reduce the risk of infection and rejection of the lung after surgery can suppress the immune system for the rest of the person’s life.

“I was given a one-in-10 or 1-in-20 odds of not being here after,” Olson says. “Compared to my quality of life at the time, there was no decision. It was a gimme.”

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Reviewed on June 28, 2011

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