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COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) - Topic Overview

How is COPD diagnosed?

To find out if you have COPD, a doctor will:

  • Do a physical exam and listen to your lungs.
  • Ask you questions about your past health and whether you smoke or have been exposed to other things that can irritate your lungs.
  • Have you do breathing tests, including spirometry, to find out how well your lungs work.
  • Do chest X-rays and other tests to help rule out other problems that could be causing your symptoms.

If there is a chance you could have COPD, it is very important to find out as soon as you can. This gives you time to take steps to slow the damage to your lungs.

How is it treated?

The best way to slow COPD is to quit smoking. This is the most important thing you can do. It is never too late to quit. No matter how long you have smoked or how serious your COPD is, quitting smoking can help stop the damage to your lungs.

Your doctor can prescribe treatments that may help you manage your symptoms and feel better.

  • Medicines can help you breathe easier. Most of them are inhaled so they go straight to your lungs. If you get an inhaler, it is very important to use it just the way your health provider shows you.
  • A lung (pulmonary) rehab program can help you learn to manage your disease. A team of health professionals can provide counseling and teach you how to breathe easier, exercise, and eat well.
  • In time, you may need to use oxygen some or most of the time.

People who have COPD are more likely to get lung infections, so you will need to get a flu vaccine every year. You should also get a pneumococcal shot. It may not keep you from getting pneumonia. But if you do get pneumonia, you probably won't be as sick.

How can you live well with COPD?

There are many things you can do at home to stay as healthy as you can.

  • Avoid things that can irritate your lungs, such as smoke and air pollution.
  • Use an air filter in your home.
  • Get regular exercise to stay as strong as you can.
  • Eat well so you can keep up your strength. If you are losing weight, ask your doctor or dietitian about ways to make it easier to get the calories you need.
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