Who to talk to about COPD

Who to talk to about COPD

Now that you’ve learned a bit about COPD, what can you do next? If you think that you or someone you know could be affected by COPD, the first step is to contact your GP. Your GP will run a series of breathing and pulmonary function tests to determine whether or not you have COPD. As well as being in regular contact with your GP, your COPD journey will lead you to many healthcare professionals in a range of settings and faculties. Many of these will come as referrals from your GP, but if you think there is type of specialist care that you could benefit from to which you have not been referred, such as physiotherapy, psychiatry, dietetics, a breathing association or any other specialist care, discuss this with your doctor.

 

Your Healthcare Team

It is important to assemble a group of healthcare professionals who you feel comfortable with and who can support you through your journey with COPD. These people will be able to cater for your needs specifically and will be well acquainted with your symptoms and circumstances. These professionals will make up what is called your multi-disciplinary team (MDT), and they may meet regularly to discuss your care. In order to get the best out of your team, Lung Foundation Australia suggests that you need effective communication which incorporates:

  • Feeling comfortable discussing symptoms and concerns with your healthcare team
  • Feeling that you are receiving adequate information
  • Open dialogue
  • Making decisions in partnership with your healthcare team

If you are not comfortable with a member of your team, or feel you are not receiving adequate care, you can ask for a second opinion or to change healthcare professionals.

 

Healthcare Settings

The healthcare settings in which you meet with the members of your MDT are often referred to in three distinct groups as the primary setting, the allied health setting and the hospital setting. The primary setting incorporates your GP, pharmacist, nurse, and those involved in delivering community-based care. These are the professionals you will meet with most frequently to discuss your progress and will be your first port of call for any enquiries. The allied health setting includes those who care for you in a hospital, community centre, or private practice, and have training in a specific body system or function.

Some of the professionals who work in this setting are physiotherapists, pulmonologists/respiratory specialists, speech pathologists, smoking cessation counsellors, dieticians and nutritionists, among others. Each of these professionals has highly specialised skills which, when assembled, will complement the rest of your team to work toward improved health. The third setting, the hospital setting, includes all of the people who you will visit in a hospital. This might include, but is not limited to, respiratory physicians, respiratory nurses, medical oncologists, radiation oncologist surgeons, palliative care physicians, and nurses. As you progress through your COPD journey, you will find yourself meeting with a combination (but probably not all) of the above professionals to discuss your health. Again, if you feel that there is a specialist who might be able to improve your condition to whom you have not been referred, ask your doctor for a referral.

 

You Are Not Alone

You are not alone. Medical help is available to you if you seek it, which you are encouraged to do as soon as you recognise symptoms of COPD. Making sure that all of your COPD needs are attended to will vastly improve your health and quality of life, so it is highly recommended that you seek medical attention for your symptoms as soon as possible, whether you think they might be symptoms of COPD or otherwise. Your MDT together should be able to deal with any or all of your COPD medical needs, from physical ailments to mental health concerns. For social or financial concerns related to your health, it is advisable to contact your nearest Centrelink office or visit humanservices.gov.au.

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Pulmonary Rehabilitation and COPD

man exhales with hands on chest

Structured exercise programs known as pulmonary rehabilitation are also available to patients with COPD. Pulmonary rehabilitation can help you increase exercise tolerance and decrease breathlessness so that you can get on with daily activities. Normally, pulmonary rehabilitation will consist of aerobic and strengthening exercises, but the type and intensity of the exercises will be determined by your physiotherapist after an initial assessment.

Fact sheets about exercising with COPD and pulmonary rehabilitation are available at the Lung Foundation Australia website, and extensive information is available at the associated website pulmonaryrehab.com.au.

Other changes you can make include dietary changes (avoid heavy consumption of mucus-producing foods, such as dairy products), and environmental changes (avoid areas with heavy air pollution, fumes or smoke; make sure you get plenty of fresh air). These should be discussed with your doctor, who can recommend any other lifestyle changes that need to take place.

Changing your smoking habits, exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet and, importantly, surrounding yourself with a supportive team of healthcare professionals, friends and family will put you firmly on a path to better health, so you can feel great, look great and breathe easy!

COPD and Smoking Cessation – Methods & Treatments

man exhales with hands on chest

It cannot be emphasised enough that the most important tool in managing COPD is your mind. The first test of mental strength will be to stop smoking. This is an absolute imperative for COPD patients who wish to improve their condition, and could even be the difference between life and death for patients in an advanced condition. The impact of cigarette or pipe smoking on COPD-affected lungs could be devastating, so help should be sought to stop smoking as soon as possible. This help is available in many forms – medicated and non-medicated treatments for smoking cessation are ubiquitous in Australian society.

A trip to any pharmacy will uncover a plethora of treatments, such as tablets, patches, lozenges, inhalers and even chewing gums, which control nicotine dosage either by limiting the dose or by providing a steady low dose. These nicotine replacement products can double your chances of quitting smoking, and when combined with support from a health professional, the Quitline or the online QuitCoach, are proven to be effective in combating – if not eliminating – nicotine cravings.

Prescription medications such as bupropion and varenicline reduce withdrawal symptoms by blocking the nicotine receptors in the brain to make smoking less satisfying. Prescribed medications are not suitable for all individuals, though, and advice should be sought from a doctor if you wish to undertake medical methods. Free ‘Quit Packs’ are available via the Australian government’s Quit Now initiative, with the suggestion to speak to a Quitline advisor at 13 78 48. Alternative methods such as hypnotherapy and acupuncture may also be useful to some individuals, but if you wish to pursue these options be sure to first conduct your own research on the subjects.

Any method of smoking cessation that hopes to be successful necessarily combines treatment of chemical, emotional and habitual cravings. It is of little use to replace or eliminate nicotine products without addressing the emotional cravings associated with smoking, so help from the aforementioned professionals, or from a range of other healthcare professionals who deal with addiction, is highly advisable.

Excercise and COPD

man exhales with hands on chest

As COPD progresses, you may notice a pattern start to emerge: as your breathlessness becomes increasingly worse upon exertion, you reduce your physical activity. As a result of reducing your physical activity, your fitness level is lowered and so breathlessness becomes more easily provoked. Unless you take control of your physical condition, this vicious cycle can take over and affect not only your physical condition but also your mental well-being.

The best way to manage or even eradicate this cycle is by engaging in regular physical activity. Exercising regularly can reduce your symptoms, improve your quality of life and increase your mobility. It can improve heart and muscle strength and help to:

  • Make your heart stronger and healthier
  • Improve your arm, body and leg muscle strength
  • Improve your breathing
  • Clear sputum from your lungs
  • Reduce your breathlessness during daily activities
  • Increase the number of activities that you are able to do each day or each week
  • Improve your balance
  • Improve your mood and make you feel more in control
  • Make you more independent
  • Assist your weight control
  • Improve and maintain your bone density

Designing an exercise program that works for you is something that you can do with your doctor or physiotherapist. Lung Foundation Australia can also help you find local programs available to the public to help you maintain regular exercise.

What is COPD?

What is COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a blanket term for a variety of lung conditions that vary in severity between individuals. The most common forms of COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis, but as many of the conditions covered by the term are often present in affected individuals, COPD is a convenient term to explain all of the conditions which obstruct breathing on a chronic level. The term “chronic” means that the disease is a progressive, long-term condition and will not simply go away. However, there are a range of things that COPD patients can do to manage symptoms and improve their quality of life, but we will come to these later.

Who Can Get COPD and How?

COPD most commonly occurs in middle-aged or older individuals and is very rarely diagnosed in patients under the age of 35. It is primarily caused by prolonged exposure to lung irritants, such as heavy smoking of cigarettes or inhalation of second hand smoke. Other irritants such as air pollution and high exposure to dusts and chemicals can increase the risk of developing COPD, but for the most part these agents are thought only to increase the risk of COPD caused by cigarette or pipe smoking.

COPD Symptoms

Symptoms of COPD vary in severity between individuals. The most common symptoms include chronic coughing, coughing large amounts of mucus (sputum production) especially in the mornings, wheezing, tightness of the chest, shortness of breath (dyspnoea), frequent chest infections and reduced tolerance for exercise. In some severe cases, COPD can also result in fatigue, depression and weight loss due to the increase in energy required to perform daily tasks. It is important for individuals affected by COPD to maintain a positive and proactive approach to managing their condition in order to achieve better health.

The Stats

COPD can and does affect people from all walks of life. 14.5% – or one in seven – of Australians 40 years or over has airflow limitation of the lungs. 7.5% of Australians aged 40 or over have COPD that has progressed sufficiently to where symptoms may already be present and affecting daily life. It is the second leading cause of avoidable hospitalisation and accounts for significant costs to the healthcare system. These astonishing numbers only highlight the inherent danger of tobacco smoking and should serve as a warning to future generations about the health implications of taking up smoking. Nevertheless, the large number of COPD patients in Australia also means that a vast amount of research and funding has been applied to pulmonary care. Treatments for lung disease are advanced, and COPD is no longer the death sentence it was perceived to be in the past. Now, living with COPD is not only achievable, but common in Australia’s ageing population of ex-smokers.

Staying Mentally Active

COPD in Daily Life

If you have recently been diagnosed with COPD, there are several factors you need to be aware of. Firstly, it pays to be aware of the financial impact COPD treatment can have on you and your family and, in severe cases, the costs of medical oxygen equipment which you might require at home. The prices for treatment will vary significantly depending on the kinds of treatment required and the individual’s health insurance or social benefit schemes. Prices for oxygen equipment can be viewed on our website, for expert advice we recommend talking to Oxygen Solutions.

Besides the costs of medical treatment and equipment, COPD can disrupt normal daily life in a range of ways. For most patients, the disturbance will be minimal. In severe cases, however, the busy schedule of appointments with healthcare professionals, as well as a decline in exercise tolerance, can make it difficult to keep up social appointments. If you have been diagnosed with COPD, remember that keeping up with friends and family is an important part of balanced health, as harbouring caring relationships is not only good for the patient’s mental and emotional well-being, but nurtures positive physical health as well. As stress levels fall with positive interactions, the body and mind can focus energy on healing, rather than on worrying about healing, or other things.

 

COPD is a pervasive disease that can affect many parts of your life, but it is important to maintain a positive attitude in order to manage your symptoms effectively and to achieve your health goals with healthcare professionals. The best way you can ensure success when managing COPD is to constantly make choices which facilitate good health and avoid choices which might hinder your improvement. The following chapters will illustrate some of the changes and choices which will help COPD patients to rehabilitate their lungs and lead a normal, healthy and full life. If you have any question about COPD please leave a comment below, we’ll do our best to answer any question.