Defining COPD: What is it? What are the signs and symptoms? Can I get better?

Health coaches at IT’S TIME TEXAS help you navigate the questions and challenges that come with living with chronic disease.

What is it?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (also known as COPD, chronic bronchitis, or emphysema) is a progressive disease that damages the lungs, allowing less air to enter and exit the airways.

What are the signs and symptoms?

The symptoms of COPD are coughing, excessive mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and other symptoms. Over half of the adults reported to live with the condition were unaware that their symptoms were due to the disease.

Who is at risk?

The leading cause of COPD is smoking, but up to 25 percent of people with COPD have never smoked. Other causes include spending a lot of time around known lung irritants such as air pollution, chemical fumes, dust, and in rare cases, can be caused by a rare genetic condition.

People of American Indian/Alaska Natives and multiracial non-Hispanics, women, people with a history of asthma, and those older than 65 have been shown to report COPD more often than other groups.

COPD is estimated to affect around 15.7 million Americans.

What can I do to manage my symptoms?

First and foremost, coping with COPD is very challenging and it’s important to take time to sort through emotions and feelings of stress that arise from living with this disease. Giving yourself time to recognize your emotions is important for not only your mental well-being but also your physical wellness and can even help alleviate stress-induced symptoms.

People who are living with COPD need to decrease the amount of time spent around the lung irritants that may have caused this condition to slow down the progression of the disease. For some this may mean to quit smoking or to look for alternative ways to shield yourself from other pollutants.

Those with COPD may have a hard time meeting their nutrition needs and eating enough due to difficulty breathing while eating and feeling fatigued after a meal, so it is important to talk to your doctor about ways that may help cope with this problem. Your doctor may suggest eating smaller, more frequent meals or to rest before eating. It is important to eat a balanced meal because not getting your nutritional needs may cause your COPD symptoms to worsen.

When it comes to exercise, have a conversation with your doctor about what intensity can work for you and if there are any steps, like pulmonary rehabilitation, that can be taken to help deal with the difficulty of staying physically active while living with COPD, depending on the severity of your condition. Those with COPD are often encouraged to get and stay active despite breathing difficulty. Regular exercise will help your heart pump oxygen throughout your body, making you feel less short of breath overall. Altered workouts and lower intensity can help strengthen the muscles in your body that you use to breathe and will increase your overall wellness.

Your doctor may also suggest getting vaccines for the flu and pneumonia since those with COPD are more at risk to these conditions than those who do not have COPD.

Can I be cured?

COPD has no known cure currently, but those living with it can still enjoy a good quality of life by managing their symptoms and receiving treatment.

Who can I talk to?

For any medical advice, it is highly recommended that you talk to your doctor about any concerns you have about your condition. Once you understand your condition more and what steps you need to take to manage your symptoms after speaking with a licensed physician, you can call the free IT’S TIME TEXAS Living Healthier hotline at 1-844-262-6224 to talk to a health coach to work on how you can make manageable steps towards your goals to manage your COPD. All Living Healthier coaches speak English and Spanish and can speak to you any number of times for free.

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