COPD and Your Medical Care Team

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on May 15, 2023
6 min read

Who helps you manage your COPD? It’s more than just one doctor. It’s a medical care team.


Your COPD care team includes providers who prescribe medicine, guide therapy to help you breathe easier, and give you tips on diet, exercise, and stress relief to improve your quality of life.

All these moving parts work best when they communicate with each other as a team. You can help by sharing all records and treatments with each member. The team may need to evolve as your symptoms and treatments change in the natural course of the disease. That’s why it’s important to pay close attention to your symptoms and check in with your doctor on a regular basis.

Whatever your needs and wherever you are on your COPD journey, stay in touch with your team to make sure you get what you need to stay as healthy as possible and get the most out of your daily life.

Your general practitioner (GP) or primary care physician may see you about twice a year for general checkups about your COPD.

Your GP may be the one who diagnoses COPD when you first have symptoms. They’re also most likely the one to treat mild to moderate COPD instead of a specialist. Your GP can treat you if you get short-term infections like a cold or the flu, or give you vaccines for the flu or pneumonia.

Your GP can prescribe medications to help you breathe easier, like bronchodilators, and inhaled or oral steroids. They can prescribe antibiotics if needed.

At regular visits with your GP, they will:

  • Check your weight and body mass index (BMI). COPD may cause some people to be underweight, so your doctor will make sure you stay at a healthy weight.
  • Check how well your lungs are working. The doctor may test your shortness of breath with a gadget called a spirometer.
  • Give you a physical exam. They’ll ask about your general health, physical activity, how well your treatments are working, and if you smoke or come in contact with second hand smoke.
  • See if you need oxygen therapy. If you can’t take in enough oxygen when you breathe, they can prescribe supplemental oxygen.


Pulmonologists are lung specialists. They’re internists with several more years of advanced training in treating lung diseases like COPD. Pulmonologists may have extra training in sleep medicine, too.

If your COPD gets much worse, your GP may refer you to a pulmonologist. Your pulmonologist can create an individual treatment plan for your COPD based on your symptoms and any other health problems you have.

Pulmonologists may do procedures like bronchoscopy. They use a long, thin scope to look deep inside your lungs to check for COPD damage. During a bronchoscopy, your pulmonologist can also place tiny coils or valves in your airways to help you breathe easier.

Your pulmonologist may do tests to check how COPD affects your lungs and overall health, like these:

  • Blood tests
  • Spirometry
  • Chest X-rays or CT scans
  • Sleep studies to check for sleep apnea

What to bring to your first appointment

Bring your medical records. The simplest way to do this is to ask your primary doctor's office to send copies to the pulmonologist's staff. Your pulmonologist will want to see:

  • Bloodwork results
  • X-rays or results of other imaging tests
  • Pulmonary function test results
  • Any other records of your medical history

Also bring a list of all your medications and supplements, including their dosage and how often you take them. Or simply take a picture of them with your cellphone.

This medications list helps your pulmonologist to see whether you have other conditions that might also cause breathing problems. Also, some medications may make your COPD symptoms worse.

If you use a bronchodilator or inhaler, bring that with you too. During your visit, show your doctor how you use it so they can see if you're doing it correctly.

Questions your pulmonologist might ask you

Your pulmonologist may ask about your symptoms, including how often you have them. If you've had success with any treatments, share those details too. Tell the doctor if you've gone to the emergency room for breathing problems or have been treated for bronchitis.

COPD is more likely to affect people who smoke or have chronic asthma or bronchitis. So your doctor may ask about your smoking history, including how much you smoke, or smoked, and for how long.

They'll ask for details about your cough:

  • How often do you cough?
  • Does it happen more during one time of the day?
  • If you cough up mucus, what color is it?
  • Have you ever coughed up blood?

And they'll want to know about your shortness of breath and when it occurs:

  • Which activities make breathing more difficult?
  • How long do you strain to breathe?
  • Is there a certain time of day when it’s harder to breathe?
  • Is it harder to breathe during certain seasons?
  • Do you have any allergies?

Your doctor may prescribe pulmonary rehabilitation for you. Your pulmonary rehab therapists teach you exercises and skills to help you breathe better, stay healthy, and be more active.

Pulmonary rehab therapists give you a physical exam. They’ll ask you how active you are. They’ll check your heart rate, blood pressure, and how much oxygen you take in when you breathe.

Pulmonary rehab therapists will also talk with you about nutrition, how to take your meds, ways to relax and manage your stress, how to deal with COPD when you travel, and how to avoid COPD complications.

Medications are an essential part of COPD management. Because of this, people with COPD often see their pharmacist more than their GP or pulmonologist. That’s why these highly trained drug specialists are such an essential part of your COPD health care team. Research shows that you can use them to manage your condition better.

Tell you pharmacist about your symptoms, especially if they worsen. They may be able to consult with your doctor to tweak your dosage or help with over-the-counter medications that could help lessen your symptoms. Pharmacists also know about your vaccine history and could tell you about any you’re missing, especially those that are important for people with COPD.

And they know how to help you quit smoking, which is the best thing you can do to slow the progression of your COPD.

It’s common for people with COPD to get depressed and anxious, so your doctor may refer you to a mental health therapist, counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist.

A doctor can prescribe medication for mental health conditions like depression or anxiety. But you may find relief or coping tips by talking about your feelings at sessions with your therapist.

If you need help to maintain a healthy weight, you can see a nutritionist or registered dietitian who specializes in COPD.

Nutritionists or dietitians can give you specific tips for healthy eating that help you gain or lose weight if you need to.

If your COPD symptoms become severe and you always struggle to breathe, the pulmonologist may refer you to a thoracic surgeon. They specialize in lung surgery.

A thoracic surgeon can check to see if you’re a good candidate for lung surgery, and if you’re healthy enough to get through the operation.

A thoracic surgeon may do lung surgeries for severe or advanced COPD.

Bullectomy to remove bulb-shaped air sacs that block your airways

  • Lung volume reduction surgery to reduce the size of your lung to help you breathe better
  • Lung transplant to replace a diseased lungwith a healthy one from a donor

These surgeries are done in the hospital.

Sometimes called supportive care, this is a team of doctors, nurses, and social workers that work together to help you maintain the best quality of life. They do this in three main ways:

  • Relieve pain, shortness of breath, and mental health issues like anxiety with meds and therapies
  • Educate you and your loved ones about life changes during COPD
  • Guide you to an overall plan to manage meds, symptoms, and disease progression

It’s never too early to talk to your doctor about palliative care. You can also look online for resources like