man talking with doctor

How to Talk With Your Doctor About COPD

COPD is a chronic illness for which there is no cure. There may be many challenges during the course of your treatment. So knowing how to work hand in hand with your health care team can help make sure you get the care you need when you need it and prevent the disease from disrupting your life any more than necessary.

In this post, I will give you some tips for communicating with your doctor and other members of your health care team. After all, it's all about teamwork, respect, and advocating for yourself!

A positive, take-charge style of communication can help you manage your COPD effectively, but also leads to better:

  • satisfaction with your overall health care
  • understanding of your disease and your treatment
  • comfort and skill in managing and monitoring your COPD by yourself

Remember, though, that communication is a two-way street. Not every doctor will make the effort to meet you halfway. If that happens, you may need to consider changing doctors. But before you go that route, there are some things you can do to improve communication.

Asking the Right Questions Is the Key

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement has developed a list of 3 main questions every patient should ask of their doctor at the beginning of care and then on each patient-doctor interaction afterwards, I've adapted these questions to relate to COPD:

1. What is my main problem in terms of my COPD at this time? You need to understand what's going on with your respiratory health status in order to grasp why the doctor is prescribing certain treatments or ordering certain tests. If you don't understand, there is a good chance that you won't take action -- or at least not the correct action. Or you may not take action in a timely manner.

2. What actions do I need to take next? Ask your doctor to explain exactly what you are to do when you leave the office/hospital or get off the phone. If you don't understand the exact steps the first time around, it's perfectly OK to ask him/her to explain it again in a different way or to provide more detail.

3. Why is it important for me to do this? If you don't understand why the doctor has prescribed something or given you a specific instruction, you may not do it, or not in a timely manner.

These 3 questions are a great place to start to initiate better communication with your health care providers. But you should always feel free to ask as many questions as you need to in order to understand what is going on with your body and what to expect from your treatment.

Other Questions to Ask

Although the 3 questions above should be a good foundation for understanding your disease and your treatment, you may need to ask a few other questions, especially if you are newly diagnosed.

1. What is COPD & what has caused my COPD? Be sure you understand what this disease is all about, how you may have contracted it and what to expect from the disease now and as time moves on.

2. What stage of COPD am I in? COPD is classified into 4 progressive stages. Your doctor can perform tests such as spirometry to determine what stage you are at right now, and can also help you identify when you might be moving on to a more severe stage.

3. Do I need to be on supplemental oxygen? People in the early stages of COPD do not always need to be on supplemental oxygen. But sooner or later, your lung condition may deteriorate to the point that your symptoms become so severe that you are unable to get adequate oxygen from breathing room air. At that point, intermittent or continuous supplemental oxygen may help you to feel more comfortable and improve your quality of life.

4. When do I need to call the doctor or seek emergency care? Every time you start to have COPD symptoms, it does not mean you need to call the doctor or go to the local emergency room. But delaying treatment when your condition is truly flaring out of control could mean the difference between life and death, or at least serious complications.

Call the doctor if:

  • Your cough is getting more frequent, deeper or producing thick yellowish/greenish or blood-tinged mucus
  • Increased shortness of breath and/or wheezing over what you are used to, especially first thing when you wake up or if it keeps you awake at night
  • Any fever at all, but especially if greater than 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Swelling in your legs or a weight gain of more than 5 pounds in a week
  • Feeling extra anxious or restless
  • Feeling more fatigued than usual

Seek emergency care if:

  • Your shortness of breath becomes so severe you are feeling panicky
  • You start to feel confused or extra forgetful, sometimes described as mental fog
  • You have any chest pain or notice a blueness of your lips or finger tips
  • You cough up blood
  • A need to use your nebulizer or rescue inhaler more often than usual

Stay tuned for additional tips for communicating with your doctor! compiled a list of questions for the doctor. Take this document with you to your next appointment to remember important questions and to jot down notes!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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