How Is COPD Treated?
COPD has no cure yet. However, treatments and
lifestyle changes can help you feel better, stay more active, and slow the
progress of the disease.
Quitting smoking is the most important step you can
take to treat COPD. Talk with your doctor about programs and products that can
help you quit.
Many hospitals have programs that help people quit
smoking, or hospital staff can refer you to a program. Ask your family members
and friends to support you in your efforts to quit. Also, try to avoid
secondhand smoke. (Secondhand smoke is smoke in the air from other people
The Diseases and Conditions Index (DCI)
and Your Heart article and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's
Guide to a Healthy Heart" booklet have more information about how to quit
Other treatments for COPD may include medicines,
vaccines, pulmonary rehabilitation (rehab),
therapy, and surgery. Your doctor also may recommend tips for managing COPD
The goals of COPD treatment include:
- Relieving your symptoms
- Slowing the progress of the disease
- Improving your exercise tolerance (your ability
to stay active)
- Preventing and treating complications
- Improving your overall health
To assist with your treatment, your family doctor
may advise you to see a pulmonologist. This is a doctor who specializes in
treating people who have lung disorders.
Bronchodilators relax the muscles around your
airways. This helps open your airways and makes breathing easier.
Depending on how severe your disease is, your doctor
may prescribe short-acting or long-acting bronchodilators. Short-acting
bronchodilators last about 4 to 6 hours and should be used only when needed.
Long-acting bronchodilators last about 12 hours or more and are
used every day.
Most bronchodilators are taken using a device called
an inhaler. This device allows the medicine to go right to your lungs. Not all
inhalers are used the same way. Ask your health care team to show you the
correct way to use your inhaler.
If your COPD is mild, your doctor may only prescribe
a short-acting inhaled bronchodilator. In this case, you may only use the
medicine when symptoms occur.
If your COPD is moderate or severe, your doctor may
prescribe regular treatment with short- and long-acting bronchodilators.
Inhaled Glucocorticosteroids (Steroids)
Inhaled steroids are used to treat people whose COPD
symptoms flare up or worsen. These medicines may reduce airway
Your doctor may ask you to try inhaled steroids for
a trial period of 6 weeks to 3 months to see whether the medicine
helps relieve your breathing problems.
The flu (influenza) can cause serious problems for
people who have COPD. Flu shots can reduce your risk of the flu. Talk with your
doctor about getting a yearly flu shot.
This vaccine lowers your risk of pneumococcal
(nu-MO-ne-ah) and its complications. People who have COPD are at higher risk of
pneumonia than people who don't have COPD. Talk with your doctor about whether
you should get this vaccine.
Pulmonary rehabilitation, or rehab, is a medically
supervised program that helps improve the health and well-being of people who
have lung problems.
Rehab may include an exercise program, disease
management training, and nutritional and psychological counseling. The
program's goal is to help you stay more active and carry out your daily
Your rehab team may include doctors, nurses,
physical therapists, respiratory therapists, exercise specialists, and
dietitians. These health professionals work together and with you to create a
program that meets your needs.
If you have severe COPD and low levels of oxygen in
your blood, oxygen therapy can help you breathe better. For this treatment,
you're given oxygen through nasal prongs or a mask.
You may need extra oxygen all the time or just
sometimes. For some people who have severe COPD, using extra oxygen for most of
the day can help them:
- Do tasks or activities, while having fewer
- Protect their hearts and other organs from
- Sleep more during the night and improve
alertness during the day
- Live longer
For more information, go to the DCI
In rare cases, surgery may benefit some people who
have COPD. Surgery usually is a last resort for people who have severe symptoms
that have not improved from taking medicines.
Surgeries for people who have COPD that's mainly
emphysema include bullectomy (bul-EK-to-me) and lung volume
reduction surgery (LVRS). A
transplant may be done for people who have very severe COPD.
When the walls of the air sacs are destroyed, larger
air spaces called bullae form. These air spaces can become so large that they
interfere with breathing. In a bullectomy, doctors remove one or more very
large bullae from the lungs.
Lung Volume Reduction Surgery
In LVRS, surgeons remove damaged tissue from the
lungs. This helps the lungs work better. In carefully selected patients, LVRS
can improve breathing and quality of life.
A lung transplant may benefit some people who have
very severe COPD. During a lung transplant, your damaged lung is removed and
replaced with a healthy lung from a deceased donor.
A lung transplant can improve your lung function and
quality of life. However, lung transplants have a high risk of complications.
These include infections and death due to the body rejecting the transplanted
If you have very severe COPD, talk with your doctor
about whether a lung transplant is an option. Discuss with your doctor the
benefits and risks of this type of surgery.
For more information, go to the DCI
COPD symptoms usually slowly worsen over time.
However, they can worsen suddenly. For instance, a cold, the flu, or a lung
infection may cause your symptoms to quickly worsen. You may have a much harder
time catching your breath. You also may have chest tightness, more
changes in the color or amount of your sputum (spit), and a fever.
Call your doctor right away if this happens. He or
she may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection and other medicines, such
as bronchodilators and inhaled steroids, to help you breathe.
Some severe symptoms may require treatment in a
hospital. For more information, go to
Are the Signs and Symptoms of COPD?"