Treating and Managing COPD

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2023

When someone is diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the next step is to create a plan for treating and managing the disease and symptoms. Doctors work with people to craft a personalized treatment plan just for them.1

Unfortunately, there is no cure for COPD. While the lung damage it causes is irreversible, lung function can sometimes be improved with treatment. Treatment for COPD is typically focused on:2

  • Improving symptoms
  • Improving or maintaining quality of life
  • Slowing disease progression
  • Reducing the risk of complications or flare-ups

To address these goals, treatment plans might have several aspects. Everyone’s personal COPD treatment plan is unique. This is because each person can have a different medical history and symptoms. A treatment plan may include:1,2

  • Medicines
  • Stopping smoking
  • Vaccines for the flu and pneumonia
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Surgery
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation program
  • Natural remedies

What kinds of medicines are used to treat COPD?

Many different medicines are used to manage different aspects of COPD. Different drugs may work better for certain people. It may take time to find the right combination of medicines for you. Medicines can help:3

  • Decrease mucus production
  • Reduce airway inflammation
  • Keep airways open

You may use medicines differently at certain times. For example, during a flare-up you may have to use an inhaler more often. You also may be prescribed antibiotics to treat infections that can cause flare-ups.2

Most people with COPD take at least 1 medicine. Many will take several medicines that work in different ways. The types of medicines often used to treat COPD or complications include:2,3

  • Bronchodilators
  • Anticholinergics
  • Corticosteroids
  • PDE4 inhibitors
  • Antibiotics and mucolytics
  • Medicines to help stop smoking
  • Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicines

What is oxygen therapy?

Lung damage caused by COPD can keep the lungs from working properly. This can cause people with COPD to not have enough oxygen in their blood. Some people with COPD need oxygen therapy to supply extra oxygen to their lungs. This ensures they have enough oxygen in the bloodstream.1,2

Some people may need supplemental oxygen all the time, especially in later stages. For others, it may only be necessary to help treat flare-ups. There are many different devices and methods that can be used for oxygen therapy. This allows people to find a method that works best for their body and needs.2

What kinds of surgery can be used to treat COPD?

Surgery is a treatment option for some people with COPD. Not everyone is a good fit for lung surgery. Usually, surgery is an option for people who are not current smokers and are healthy besides COPD. The types of surgeries used to treat COPD include:4

  • Bullectomy – A procedure to remove 1 or more destroyed air sacs
  • Lung volume reduction surgery – Surgery to remove damaged sections of the lung
  • Lung transplant – Surgery where 1 or both damaged lungs are replaced with a donor's lungs
  • Bronchoscopic lung volume reduction – Minimally invasive surgery where valves are placed into the airways of damaged lung tissue

What is a pulmonary rehabilitation program?

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a special type of program designed to help people living with COPD. It can reduce the risk of complications and improve quality of life. Pulmonary rehab centers will monitor your oxygen saturation while you exercise and will help you use supplemental oxygen if needed. Pulmonary rehab may include:2

  • Education on COPD
  • Exercise
  • Breathing exercises
  • Nutrition and weight management advice
  • Advice on coping with the emotional impact of COPD

What kinds of natural remedies do some people with COPD use?

Some people with COPD use natural remedies as complementary therapies to help reduce COPD symptoms. They are considered complementary because they are used along with regular prescription drugs and therapies but not instead of them. Always talk to your doctor before trying complementary or natural remedies. Your doctor can help you decide if they are right for you.5

Some natural remedies used by people with COPD include:5

  • Acupuncture
  • Massage therapy
  • Meditation

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