LIVING WELL WITH COPD
People with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease are living longer and better lives than ever before. With proper management, you can breathe easier and live a full life.
Paddy O’Brien knows you can lead a full life with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Diagnosed ten years ago, he enjoys time with his family and even plays hockey twice a week. When first diagnosed with the disease in his 50s, Paddy dismissed his breathlessness and lingering cough, “I blamed it on age and allergies.” The fact that he used to smoke also added to his reluctance to talk to his doctor. COPD is the name for a group of lung diseases where people have difficulty breathing because their airways have been narrowed. It includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.1
Approximately 1.6 million Canadians are living with COPD but have yet to be diagnosed.1 Dr. Ken Chapman, Director of the Asthma and Airway Centre of the University Health Network and President of the Canadian Network for Respiratory Care, says stigma is part of the problem. “People are worried their doctor’s response will be, ‘you did this to yourself.’ But doctors want to help their patients.”
Getting a diagnosis as early as possible is key to getting on the right treatment plan so people can continue living their lives. Dr. Chapman believes COPD would be better diagnosed if more family doctors used spirometry to test patients. A spirometer measures how much air you can blow out of your lungs and how fast you can blow it out. This simple test can be done in a doctor’s office and is the only way to diagnose COPD. 2
Once a patient receives a diagnosis, it is important to keep the lines of communication open with your doctor. A diagnosis of COPD means that your airways have become partially blocked and you may experience episodes of flare-ups caused by many triggers.5 Knowing how to avoid those triggers and how to treat them are incredibly important.
After he was diagnosed, Paddy tried different combinations of medications with little success. It was only when he demonstrated to his doctor how he was using his inhaler that they discovered he was using it incorrectly. Once he started using his inhaler properly, he began to breathe much easier.
It’s not uncommon. Up to 52 per cent of COPD patients struggle to inhale their medications.3,4 “It’s very important to take their medications exactly as directed,” says Dr. Chapman. “For a medication to work, it needs to get to the right spot to open your breathing passages and prevent exacerbations. If you’re not sure if you’re inhaling the medication correctly discuss it with your doctor to make sure you’re getting the intended benefit.”
While breathlessness, or shortness of breath are common for patients with COPD,1 patients do have some control. Eating well, exercising regularly,1 keeping indoor air clean,5 and getting enough sleep5 can go a long way to help manage COPD triggers.5
When it comes to medications, Dr. Chapman says there are options.
“If you are relying on quick relief inhaler several times a day, you could look into a once-daily, longer-acting one.”
While the diagnosis of COPD was initially overwhelming for Paddy, he now has a positive outlook. “You can have a full life with COPD,” he says. “Make goals for yourself, find support networks and keep moving in whatever way works for you.”
Says Dr. Chapman, “It’s important to know that people with COPD are living better and longer lives than ever before.”