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Living With COPD

COPD presents 13 million Americans with new challenges and opportunities for better health.

Managing COPD With Exercise and Diet continued...

Just to breathe, the breathing muscles of a person with COPD burn 10 times the calories of other people. For those living with COPD, getting enough calories is important to maintain energy, prevent infections, and keep breathing muscles strong.

And exercise, including specific breathing exercises, can help in many ways, even though it can feel counterintuitive to do something that may cause some shortness of breath. These are just a few of the benefits of exercise for someone with COPD:

  • Improves how well your body uses oxygen
  • Improves your breathing and decreases other symptoms
  • Strengthens your heart, lowers your blood pressure, and improves your circulation
  • Improves your energy, making it possible to stay more active


Medical Treatment and Surgery for COPD

Reilly says that improvements in COPD treatment over the years have made a major difference for people living with the condition. Today, doctors prescribe two main types of medication for COPD. Bronchodilators can help widen airways and corticosteroids can reduce airway swelling. Antibiotics may be needed to treat infections.

A new class of drugs inhibit an enzyme called phosphodiesterase type 4 (PDE-4). Daliresp is one such drug that prevents COPD flares in people whose condition is associated with chronic bronchitis. Daliresp is not intended for other types of COPD.  

Oxygen treatment is a therapy that has dramatically reduced mortality, says Reilly. This therapy is often prescribed for people who cannot get enough oxygen from the air on their own. Edelman adds that oxygen therapy improves the heart and muscles, and with more fit muscles, you can do more.

When the opportunity arises, Hannigan uses her oxygen tank as a teaching tool with young children. She tells them, "This is what will happen to you if you ever start smoking."

Surgery is also an option for those with severe COPD. In rare cases, a surgeon may perform a lung transplant, replacing a diseased lung with a healthy one from a donor. Lung reduction surgery involves removing sections of damaged lung tissue. In the future, this surgery may be done as a minimally invasive procedure, rather than as an open surgery with a large incision. Reilly says clinical trials are currently studying this and other ways to improve treatment for COPD.

Reilly encourages people to become involved in COPD research studies like these. Currently, though, recruitment for COPD research is a challenge, he says. "But if we're going to move the field forward, we need to get people with COPD to participate in trials."

Getting the COPD Treatment You Deserve

To the people who are afraid of diagnosis, Reilly says, remember that there are effective treatments out there. "It makes sense to be evaluated to see if you have it, and to get on the right therapy if you do."

Says Hannigan, "When you start having shortness of breath that is not normal for you, tell your doctor. The earlier you find it and the faster you stop smoking, the faster you can stop the progression of the disease and the longer life you have to live."

As with any chronic disease, says Edelman, keeping a positive attitude is paramount.

Hannigan couldn't agree more. "Attitude is everything," she says. A serious disease? Absolutely. "But it's not a death sentence."

Reviewed on February 09, 2011