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COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) - Medications

Medicine for COPD is used to:

  • Reduce shortness of breath.
  • Control coughing and wheezing.
  • Prevent COPD flare-ups, also called exacerbations, or keep the flare-ups you do have from being life-threatening.

Most people with COPD find that medicines make breathing easier.

Some COPD medicines are used with devices called inhalers or nebulizers. It's important to learn how to use these devices correctly. Many people don't, so they don't get the full benefit from the medicine.

Medicine choices

  • BronchodilatorsBronchodilators are used to open or relax your airways camera.gif and help your shortness of breath.
    • Short-acting bronchodilators ease your symptoms. They are considered a good first choice for treating stable COPD in a person whose symptoms come and go (intermittent symptoms). They include:
      • Anticholinergics (such as ipratropium).
      • Beta2-agonists (such as albuterol or levalbuterol).
      • A combination of the two (such as a combination of albuterol and ipratropium).
    • Long-acting bronchodilators help prevent breathing problems. They help people whose symptoms do not go away (persistent symptoms). They include:
      • Anticholinergics (such as aclidinium, tiotropium, or umeclidinium).
      • Beta2-agonists (such as formoterol or salmeterol).
      • A combination of the two, or a combination of a beta2-agonist and a corticosteroid medicine.
  • Phosphodiesterase-4 (PDE4) inhibitors are taken every day to help prevent COPD exacerbations. The only PDE4 inhibitor available is roflumilast (Daliresp).
  • Corticosteroids (such as prednisone) may be used in pill form to treat a COPD flare-up or in an inhaled form to prevent flare-ups. They are often used if you also have asthma.
  • Other medicines include methylxanthines, which generally are used for severe cases of COPD. They may have serious side effects, so they are not usually recommended.

Tips for using inhalers

The first time you use a bronchodilator, you may not notice much improvement in your symptoms. This doesn't always mean that the medicine won't help. Try the medicine for a while before you decide if it is working.

Many people don't use their inhalers right, so they don't get the right amount of medicine. Ask your health care provider to show you what to do. Read the instructions on the package carefully.

Most doctors recommend using spacers slideshow.gif with metered-dose inhalers. But you should not use a spacer with a dry powder inhaler.

actionset.gif Breathing Problems: Using a Metered-Dose Inhaler with or without a spacer
actionset.gif Breathing Problems: Using a Dry Powder Inhaler

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: September 09, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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