Finding Hope and Making Peace With COPD
Last updated: June 2019
Getting that diagnosis of COPD and then living with its effects is no joke. The way it interferes with everyday life, your ability to be active and your social life can be challenging to cope with. Learning that it is a progressive disease with no cure can make it hard to have hope for your future. Some people become further debilitated by anxiety and/or depression.
But it's important to recognize that it is possible to find hope and make peace with COPD. You don't have to let it take over your life. There are steps you can take to cope in more positive ways with your disease and to maintain your quality of life.
The facts about COPD
First, let's review a few other basic facts about COPD. COPD makes it hard to breathe, and this can get worse from year to year, or even sooner in some cases. The most common symptoms include:1
- Shortness of breath, especially during activity
- Chronic cough, sometimes with mucus, sometimes called phlegm or sputum
- Chest tightness
- Frequent respiratory infections
When you have COPD, less air flows in and out of your airways. These are some of the reasons why this happens:2
- Airways and the tiny air sacs at the base of your lungs lose their elasticity
- The walls between many of the air sacs also break down
- As a result, the airways become thick and inflamed
- Your lungs make more mucus than usual and can become partially clogged
COPD is most often, but not always, caused by a long history of tobacco smoking. In some cases, it can also be caused by long exposure to environmental toxins. And in fewer cases, there is a genetic condition that can cause it.2
More than 16 million people have COPD in the U.S. alone and it is the 4th leading cause of death.2 Many more are believed to have it as well but have not yet been diagnosed.
There is no cure for COPD. The lung damage it causes cannot be reversed. And, although it develops slowly, it will progress and get worse over time.
But, there is hope for those living with COPD
Even though all of the facts listed above may sound dire and depressing, the good news is that the pace of the disease's worsening can be slowed or even stopped for a time. Many people live with COPD for many years and are able to maintain productive, happy lives.
You can too! Getting the right treatment, making lifestyle changes and developing effective coping techniques can help you feel better overall, stay active and enjoy your life.
Make the right lifestyle choices
One of the best ways to take control of COPD, rather than the opposite, is to focus on your lifestyle.
Quit your smoking habit, if you have one
The very best lifestyle choice you can make, if you have not already, is to quit smoking.
It's not easy to quit a lifetime habit, and it's not unusual to have to try more than once to make this change stick. But it can be done if improving your health and fighting back against COPD is important enough to you. If you need help to quit, ask for it. There are medications, support groups and other aids that can greatly improve your chances of success.
Reduce lung irritants
Avoiding other respiratory irritants is also important. Avoiding them 100% might not be feasible, but do the best you can. Your lungs will thank you! These are some of the most common irritants:2
- Air pollution
- Chemical fumes
- Secondhand smoke
- Allergens, such as pollen, mold and pet dander
Getting, or staying, active is also essential. Try to develop a regular exercise routine that includes stretching, some kind of cardio (such as walking or swimming) and strength training. This can benefit you in so many ways:3
- Improved muscle tone, stronger bones and better endurance
- Better mood
- More restful sleep
- Stronger heart
- Better breathing
- Improved weight control
Make healthy eating a goal
Eating well is always important, but especially when dealing with a chronic disease like COPD. Try to make vegetables and fruit a big part of your daily intake, but do also include proteins, healthy fats, and some carbohydrates. When eating carbs, whole grains are best and even then, in limited portion sizes. Healthy eating will help you maintain your weight too in a healthy range.
Take charge of your COPD
One of the reasons COPD can be hard to cope with is because you may feel you have lost control--of your body and your life. But you don't have to just "lie down and accept your fate." You can take a proactive approach to manage your disease.
First off, learn all you can about COPD. They say, "Knowledge is power," and I fully agree with that. Be sure to share what you learn with your family and friends, so they'll know best what to expect too and how to support you. Ask questions of your health care team, read the articles here and consult other reputable sources. Just be aware that not everything you read on the Web is accurate.
In addition, another way to be proactive in managing COPD is to work with your health care team. Get regular check-ups and keep in touch with your doctor in between times whenever you have questions or are concerned about your health. Follow your COPD care plan, taking your medications as prescribed and so on. And be sure to prepare for emergencies, knowing when to seek out care.
A positive outlook
Life isn't always easy when you have COPD. But, with the right attitude and the right approach to living with it, you'll maintain a hopeful outlook and be at peace. And, life can still be sweet.
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