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COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) - Treatment Overview

The goals of treatment for COPD are to:

  • Slow down the disease by quitting smoking and avoiding triggers, such as air pollution.
  • Limit your symptoms, such as shortness of breath, with medicines.
  • Increase your overall health with regular activity.
  • Prevent and treat flare-ups with medicines and other treatment.

Self-care

Much of the treatment for COPD includes things you can do for yourself.

Quitting smoking is the most important thing you can do to slow the disease and improve your quality of life.

Quitting Smoking

Other things you can do that really make a difference including eating well, staying active, and avoiding triggers. To learn more, see Living With COPD.

Medicines

The medicines used to treat COPD can be long-acting to help prevent symptoms or short-acting to help relieve them. Medicines include:

Other treatment you may need

If COPD gets worse, you may need other treatment, such as:

  • Oxygen treatmentOxygen treatment. This involves getting extra oxygen through a face mask or through a small tube that fits just inside your nose. It can be done in the hospital or at home.
  • Pulmonary rehabPulmonary rehab. This involves a team of health professionals who help prevent or manage the problems caused by COPD. It typically combines exercise, breathing therapy, advice for eating well, and education.
  • Treatment formuscle weakness and weight lossmuscle weakness and weight loss. Many people with severe COPD have trouble keeping their weight up and their bodies strong. This can be treated by paying attention to eating regularly and well.
  • Help with depression. COPD can affect more than your lungs. It can cause stress, anxiety, and depression. These things take energy and can make your COPD symptoms worse. But they can be treated. If you feel very sad or anxious, call your doctor.
  • Surgery. Surgery is rarely used for COPD. It's only considered for people who have severe COPD that has not improved with other treatment.

Dealing with flare-ups

COPD flare-ups, or exacerbations, are when your symptoms—shortness of breath, cough, and mucus production—quickly get worse and stay worse.

Work with your doctor to make a plan for dealing with a COPD flare-up. If you are prepared, you may be able to get it under control. Don't panic if you start to have one. Quick treatment at home may help you prevent serious breathing problems.

A flare-up can be life-threatening, and you may need to go to your doctor's office or to a hospital. Treatment for flare-ups includes:

  • Medicines to help you breathe.
  • Machines to help you breathe. The use of a machine to help with breathing is called mechanical ventilation. Ventilation is used only if medicine isn't helping you and your breathing is getting very difficult.
    • Noninvasive positive pressure ventilation (NPPV) forces air into your lungs through a face mask.
    • With invasive ventilation, a breathing tube is inserted into your windpipe, and a machine forces air into your lungs.
    • Oxygen to help you breathe. Oxygen treatment can be done in the hospital or at home.
  • Antibiotics. These medicines are used when a bacterial lung infection is considered likely. People with COPD have a higher risk of pneumonia and frequent lung infections. These infections often lead to COPD exacerbations, or flare-ups, so it's important to try to avoid them.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 16, 2012
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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