COPD - what to ask your doctor
What to ask your doctor about COPD; Emphysema - what to ask your doctor; Chronic bronchitis - what to ask your doctor; Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - what to ask your doctor
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) damages your lungs. This can make it hard for you to get enough oxygen and clear carbon dioxide from your lungs. While there is no cure for COPD, you can do many things to control your symptoms and make your life better.
Below are some questions you may want to ask your health care provider to help you take care of your lungs.
For years, you've enjoyed relaxing with a cigarette in your hand, and looked forward to your cigarette breaks at work, but now, all of that smoking has caught up with you. You're coughing, wheezing, often out of breath. Could you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease? Let's talk about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, for short. COPD is a lung disease that's usually caused by smoking, although some people who smoke for years never get the condition, while a few get COPD even if they've never lit up. Most people with COPD have a combination of a cough that just won't go away, called chronic bronchitis, and lung damage, called emphysema. The symptoms of COPD can sneak up on you slowly. Over time, you'll develop a cough that lingers, day after day. You'll feel tired, and have trouble catching your breath. Only your doctor can tell for sure whether this is COPD. To test for it, you'll need to breathe or blow into a machine as hard as you can, and hold that breath, as long as you can, in a test called spirometry. You may also need to have a blood test to determine how much oxygen and carbon dioxide is in your blood. If you have COPD, the ways things stand now, you'll have it for life, as there is no cure for this disease. However, there are ways to control the condition and help you breathe more easily. The first thing you do, absolutely need to do, is stop smoking, which will help slow down the damage to your lungs. A few medicines can help relieve COPD symptoms. You may breathe in a bronchodilator medicine through an inhaler to open up your airways, or take steroids to bring down the swelling in your lungs. If you're having real trouble breathing though, call your local emergency services number. You may need to visit the hospital for oxygen or breathing assistance. You may also need to take antibiotics during flare-ups, because getting an infection can make your COPD worse. Though it may be hard to exercise when you're feeling out of breath, staying active will help keep your muscles strong. Your doctor can teach you how to breathe in a different way so that you can exercise with COPD. You can help avoid the shortness of breath, the coughing, and the wheezing of COPD by butting out, kicking your cigarette habit as soon as possible. Not smoking is the absolute best way to prevent COPD. Ask your doctor about programs and medicines that may make it easier for you to quit.
What will make my COPD worse?
- How can I prevent things that can make my COPD worse?
- How can I prevent getting a lung infection?
- How can I get help quitting smoking?
- Will fumes, dust, or having pets make my COPD worse?
What are some signs that my breathing is getting worse and I should call the provider? What should I do when I feel I am not breathing well enough?
Am I taking my COPD medicines the right way?
- What medicines should I be taking every day (called controller drugs)? What should I do if I miss a day or a dose?
- Which medicines should I take when I am short of breath (called quick-relief or rescue drugs)? Is it OK to use these drugs every day?
- What are the side effects of my medicines? For what side effects should I call the provider?
- Am I using my inhaler the right way? Should I be using a spacer? How will I know when my inhalers are getting empty?
- When should I use my nebulizer and when should I use my inhaler?
What shots or vaccinations do I need?
Are there changes in my diet that will help my COPD?
What do I need to do when I am planning to travel?
- Will I need oxygen on the airplane? How about at the airport?
- What medicines should I bring?
- Who should I call if I get worse?
What are some exercises I can do to keep my muscles strong, even if I cannot walk around very much?
Should I consider pulmonary rehabilitation?
How can I save some of my energy around the house?
Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) website. Global strategy for the diagnosis, management, and prevention of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: 2018 report.
Macnee W, Vestbo J, Agusti A. COPD: pathogenesis and natural history. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 43.
Last reviewed on: 11/3/2018
Reviewed by: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Paul F. Harron Jr. Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.