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Living With COPD

COPD has no cure yet. However, you can take steps to manage your symptoms and slow the progress of the disease. You can:

  • Avoid lung irritants
  • Get ongoing care
  • Manage the disease and its symptoms
  • Prepare for emergencies

Avoid Lung Irritants

If you smoke, quit. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD. Talk with your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit.

If you have trouble quitting smoking on your own, consider joining a support group. Many hospitals, workplaces, and community groups offer classes to help people quit smoking. Ask your family members and friends to support you in your efforts to quit.

For more information about how to quit smoking, go to the Health Topics Smoking and Your Heart article and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's "Your Guide to a Healthy Heart." Although these resources focus on heart health, they include basic information about how to quit smoking.

Also, try to avoid lung irritants that can contribute to COPD. Examples include secondhand smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes, and dust. (Secondhand smoke is smoke in the air from other people smoking.)

Keep these irritants out of your home. If your home is painted or sprayed for insects, have it done when you can stay away for a while.

Keep your windows closed and stay at home (if possible) when there's a lot of air pollution or dust outside.

Get Ongoing Care

If you have COPD, it's important to get ongoing medical care. Take all of your medicines as your doctor prescribes. Make sure to refill your prescriptions before they run out. Bring a list of all the medicines you're taking when you have medical checkups.

Talk with your doctor about whether and when you should get flu (influenza) and pneumonia vaccines. Also, ask him or her about other diseases for which COPD may increase your risk, such as heart disease, lung cancer, and pneumonia.

Manage COPD and Its Symptoms

You can do things to help manage COPD and its symptoms. For example:

  • Do activities slowly.
  • Put items that you need often in one place that's easy to reach.
  • Find very simple ways to cook, clean, and do other chores. For example, you might want to use a small table or cart with wheels to move things around and a pole or tongs with long handles to reach things.
  • Ask for help moving things around in your house so that you won't need to climb stairs as often.
  • Keep your clothes loose, and wear clothes and shoes that are easy to put on and take off.

Depending on how severe your disease is, you may want to ask your family and friends for help with daily tasks.

Prepare for Emergencies

If you have COPD, know when and where to seek help for your symptoms. You should get emergency care if you have severe symptoms, such as trouble catching your breath or talking. (For more information on severe symptoms, go to "What Are the Signs and Symptoms of COPD?")

Call your doctor if you notice that your symptoms are worsening or if you have signs of an infection, such as a fever. Your doctor may change or adjust your treatments to relieve and treat symptoms.

Keep phone numbers handy for your doctor, hospital, and someone who can take you for medical care. You also should have on hand directions to the doctor's office and hospital and a list of all the medicines you're taking.

Emotional Issues and Support

Living with COPD may cause fear, anxiety, depression, and stress. Talk about how you feel with your health care team. Talking to a professional counselor also might help. If you're very depressed, your doctor may recommend medicines or other treatments that can improve your quality of life.

Joining a patient support group may help you adjust to living with COPD. You can see how other people who have the same symptoms have coped with them. Talk with your doctor about local support groups or check with an area medical center.

Support from family and friends also can help relieve stress and anxiety. Let your loved ones know how you feel and what they can do to help you.

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July 31, 2013 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.