COPD Management

When you are diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), it’s important to know how to manage your condition. Although there’s no cure for COPD, good management can help to slow its progression, reduce the risk of exacerbations and keep symptoms under control.

How is COPD managed?

COPD is typically managed with a range of treatments and healthy lifestyle changes. There are different stages of COPD, so the treatments and management plan recommended for you may well be slightly different to someone diagnosed with a milder or more severe case of COPD.

COPD treatments

Some of the typical COPD treatments that may be prescribed include:

  • Inhaled medicines called bronchodilators, which help relax the muscles around your airways
  • Steroid inhalers to reduce swelling in your airways
  • Oxygen therapy if you have low blood oxygen levels
  • A pulmonary rehabilitation program to help you learn to breathe more easily.

In severe cases, and if other treatments don’t work, surgery to remove damaged parts of your lungs may be suggested.

Breath management exercises for COPD

Breathlessness is a key symptom of COPD, and so learning breathing techniques and breath management exercises can help you manage it more effectively. Exercises such as the pursed lip or diaphragmatic techniques are worth practicing regularly. They can help strengthen the muscles you use for breathing and boost your self-confidence, so you’ll know how to handle things if symptoms do occur.

Exercising with COPD

It may seem difficult to exercise with COPD, but regular exercise can help to alleviate some of your symptoms and is an important element of your COPD management. Activities such as walking, cycling, or strength exercises are beneficial to you physically, but also good for your emotional wellbeing too.

Practicing breathing exercises will put you in good stead for doing more physical activities, as you’ll become more adept at breathing appropriately for your needs and it will improve how much exercise you’re able to do.

COPD diet

Like many other health conditions, eating a healthy nutritious diet is beneficial. If you’re overweight, you may find you become more breathless and so losing weight can help. Combining a healthy diet with regular exercise can help with both losing and maintaining weight.

Emotional wellbeing

Living with COPD can put a strain on your mental and emotional wellbeing, and it can be difficult for friends or family to see you unwell. Constantly dealing with the symptoms of COPD, such as coughing and breathlessness, can wear you out and leave you feeling anxious, depressed, or low. In turn, this can make you less likely to be active, which can have an impact on your physical symptoms.

It’s important to look after yourself and take time to practice self-care. Make time to focus on yourself, be it reading a book, watching a film, or going out for a coffee. Talk to other people about how you feel and consider finding a local or online support group to join. Talking to a counselor can also help. You do not need to manage COPD alone.

Vaccinations and COPD

COPD can increase your vulnerability to infection and make it harder to fight them off. It’s important to have the annual flu jab, pneumococcal vaccination (a one-off), and COVID-19 vaccinations. If you’re not automatically invited to have them, speak to your family doctor.

What is a COPD management plan?

A COPD management plan is a guide to how to manage your condition on a day-to-day basis. When you’re diagnosed, it’s likely that your doctor and medical team will help you put together a self-management plan, so that you can understand the basics of how best to manage the condition.

A COPD management plan is tailored to your own needs and will vary according to the stage at which your COPD is at. That’s one reason why it’s important to have regular medical checks and reviews, so your progress can be monitored and your management plan adjusted.

Your plan should include prescribed medications, breathing exercises, and diet and exercise best practice, and emotional support. Another key part of a COPD management plan is to avoid potential triggers where possible. This helps reduce the risk of symptoms worsening or causing flare-ups.

Some of the common triggers for COPD symptoms are exposure to air pollution, secondhand smoke, traffic fumes, smoking tobacco, and dust. If you currently smoke, then it’s advisable to quit smoking to help your COPD. Research has found that stopping smoking can reduce the risk of hospitalization for COPD patients.

What is the best treatment for severe COPD?

There’s no single best treatment for severe COPD – the treatment your doctor recommends will depend entirely on your individual symptoms and circumstances, and your treatment will be tailored to your requirements. For severe COPD, you’re likely to require a combination of treatments, rather than a single treatment.

In severe cases of COPD, surgery is sometimes required to remove damaged parts of the lung, allowing the healthier parts to work better. In a small number of cases, a lung transplant may be an option.

It’s important that you stick to the prescribed routine and schedule with whatever medications you’re prescribed, as that will give you the best chance of easing symptoms and avoiding hospitalization.

What is the latest treatment for COPD?

Research into COPD is ongoing and as new treatments are found, they gradually become available to try. It takes time for new treatments to be approved, although you may be able to access a clinical trial. Speak to your doctor about what is available in your region and whether you are a suitable candidate.

Roflumilast

One of the newer add-on bronchodilator treatments for severe COPD patients is Roflumilast, which can help with chronic bronchitis and a history of frequent exacerbations. It is administered in the form of tablets and helps to reduce inflammation in the airways and lungs.

Valve surgery
Endobronchial valve surgery is a new form of surgical intervention aimed at people who have severe emphysema. It involves putting tiny Zephyr® valves in the airways to block off the parts of the lungs that are damaged. This procedure can help reduce the pressure on your diaphragm, help the healthier parts of your lungs to work more efficiently, and reduce breathlessness.

Biologics
In the future, it’s likely that biologic drugs for COPD may become commonplace. Biologics are drugs made from or containing biological sources and can help to treat and prevent inflammation in the airways. Research is ongoing into the effectiveness of biologic treatment for COPD.

Find out how to better manage your COPD through treatments and exercises.

Sources

BMJ Best Practice – Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

BNF. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Kusumoto M, Mathis BJ. 2021. Biologic Treatments for Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder. Allergies, 92–107.

MSD Manual. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

NICE. 2019. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in over 16s: diagnosis and management. NICE guideline NG115.

NICE. 2016. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in adults. Quality standard QS10.

Van Dijk M, Gan CT, Koster TD et al. 2020. Treatment of severe stable COPD: the multidimensional approach of treatable traits. ERJ Open Research 2020 6: 00322-2019; DOI: 10.1183/23120541.00322-2019