COPD and Your Medical Care Team

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.

Your GP

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 secondhand smoke.
  • See if you need oxygen therapy. If you can’t take in enough oxygen when you breathe, they can prescribe supplemental oxygen.

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Your Pulmonologist

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:

Pulmonary Rehabilitation Therapist

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.

Mental Health Therapist

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.

Nutritionist or Dietitian

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.

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Thoracic Surgeon

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 lung with a healthy one from a donor

These surgeries are done in the hospital.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Paul Boyce, MD on August 19, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Proceedings of the American Thoracic Society: “Multidisciplinary Care of the Patient With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.”

American Lung Association: “COPD and Emotional Health,” “Know Your Providers: What Does a Pulmonologist Do?” “Nutrition and COPD,” “Surgery for COPD.”

FamilyDoctor.org: “Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).”

BMJ Best Practice: “COPD: Monitoring.”

International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: “Knowledge and attitudes of family physicians coming to COPD continuing medical education.”

Loyola University Medical Center: “Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).”

Inova Hospital: “Bronchoscopy.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Nutritional Guidelines for People with COPD,” “Tiny Coils Help COPD Patients Breathe Easier.”

COPD Foundation: “What Is Pulmonary Rehabilitation?”

Respiratory Medicine: “Monitoring of Patients With COPD: A Review of Current Guidelines’ Recommendations.”

Brigham and Women’s Hospital: “Lung and Airway Conditions.”

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