Put some spring in your step
If you have recently been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), this may be the first time you have heard of the condition. You may well have a lot of questions about it and what the diagnosis means for you.
GSK’s Monica Fletcher, who has supported people with respiratory disease for more than 30 years, aims to answer some of these questions here and give you some ideas for your next steps.
What is COPD?
COPD is a term used to describe a group of conditions that affect the lungs – you may already have heard of emphysema or chronic bronchitis, among others.
These conditions cause the airways to become narrower and make it difficult for you to breathe out air from your lungs.
COPD is a chronic condition, which means it can’t be cured and will need to be managed long term. But there are several things you and your doctor or nurse can do to help you with your COPD.
Any diagnosis of a chronic condition and particularly one which makes it hard to breathe, can be overwhelming and frightening. And it’s perfectly normal to experience these feelings.
If you’re feeling like this, try talking it through with other people, like your family, friends and healthcare professionals.
So what's next?
Here are some other ideas you might like to try to help manage your condition.
- Learn more about COPD – this is all going to be new to you, so be sure to read through any information your doctor has given you to get a good initial understanding of your condition. You can also find information online through COPD patient groups or your health service.
If you forgot to ask any questions, don’t be afraid to write them down as you read about your condition so you have a list to take with you to your next appointment. Your doctor or nurse will be happy to talk these through with you.
- Speak to family and friends – talking openly to the people close to you about your condition and its impact on you will help them know how best to support you. They may also have questions for your doctor or nurse.
- Get to know your medicines – you may have been prescribed medicines to help you manage the symptoms of COPD. Familiarise yourself with when to take them and how. This is especially important if you’ve been prescribed an inhaler, as it will only work when used correctly. It can take a little while to learn how to use inhalers so if you’re unsure, ask your doctor or nurse to demonstrate, or speak to your local pharmacist who may be able to help.
- Find your local COPD support group – some people find talking to others who have a similar condition helpful. There are great patient organisations set up to help support people living with COPD, such as the British Lung Foundation in the UK and the COPD Foundation in the US. You’ll find useful resources and information on their websites. If you’re interested in talking to other people with the condition, many organisations have local groups that meet regularly.
- Keep active – you may think being diagnosed with COPD means you should avoid exercise in case it makes you out of breath. But for many with COPD, the opposite is true: keeping active can help to improve your fitness, preventing you from getting out of breath so often. If you’re unsure what type of exercise you should be doing, your doctor will be able to advise you. They may refer you to pulmonary rehabilitation, a programme which combines exercise, nutrition and breathing strategies designed to help those with COPD to optimally manage their condition.
- General wellbeing – if you smoke, your healthcare professional can give you advice to help you stop. There are medicines and services available to support you, helping you to control your condition and reduce further damage to your lungs. Eating healthily is also a really important way to look after yourself. Some people find that eating little and often is the best approach – but the key thing is to find something that works for you. Getting as much sleep as possible will also help you day to day.
Monitor how you’re doing
A great way to monitor how you’re managing is to take the COPD assessment test (CAT) every two to three months. CAT is a survey of eight questions about your daily life. It’s useful to take this with you to your appointments so that your doctor or nurse can see how your COPD is impacting you and how this might change over time.
Finally, it’s important to remember you’re not alone. There are lots of people who will have just been diagnosed and may be experiencing similar feelings. And there are many more who have lived with COPD for many years and who lead full and active lives. Living with COPD may mean you have to make changes in your life, but it doesn’t need to change who you are.
If you’re looking for more information about your newly diagnosed condition, you’ll find lots of helpful advice on our resources page.