Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)


Chronic obstructive pulmonary (lung) disease, or COPD, is a condition where your airways are damaged, leading to shortness of breath and increased coughing.  Two lung diseases, emphysema and chronic bronchitis are collectively known as COPD. When COPD develops, air gets trapped in the lungs and cannot easily escape. This leads to chest tightness, shortness of breath, and fatigue.

COPD is progressive and irreversible. It affects millions of people.

COPD not only damages the lungs. It can put a strain on your heart, possibly leading to heart failure. COPD also increases blood pressure in your lungs. It can additionally cause malnourishment because you become too short of breath to properly eat.

With the help of your Optum doctor, you can manage your COPD. Your treatment plan will help you improve your quality of life and slow the progression of the disease.

What are the causes of COPD?

  • Cigarette smoking (accounts for 80 to 90 percent of all cases)
  • Second-hand smoke
  • Childhood respiratory infections
  • Work-related or environmental dust, coal dust, and chemical exposure
  • Indoor pollution from cooking fumes and poor ventilation
  • Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (a rare, inherited disorder)

What are the symptoms of COPD?

  • Shortness of breath during routine tasks
  • Increase in cough or phlegm
  • Wheezing
  • Fatigue/tiring easily
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Swollen ankles
  • Inability to concentrate (low oxygen levels)
  • Recurrent lung infections

How is COPD treated?

If you are diagnosed with COPD, your doctor may recommend changes you can make to live a healthier lifestyle. These changes will also make your daily activities easier and help slow the progression of your condition.

Here are some ways to treat COPD:

  • Take prescribed medications as directed.
  • Maintain an active lifestyle as approved by your doctor. Aerobic exercise can help to increase your stamina, and strengthening your upper body can improve your ability to breathe.
  • Quit smoking. Ask your doctor about ways to help you quit.
  • Avoid irritants, such as fumes, dust, and strong odors that may trigger a “flare up.”  Also decrease exercise when air pollution is high.
  • Get vaccinated for the flu and pneumonia.
  • Reduce your stress.
  • Learn and practice breathing exercises such as “pursed lip breathing” and “abdominal breathing” to get more oxygen into your lungs and move the “bad air” out.

Eating right can also help you manage your COPD. Use these tips to get the most out of your meals:

  • Eat small meals throughout the day instead of three large meals.
  • Avoid gas-producing foods, including apples, broccoli, cabbage, and carbonated beverages.
  • Try to stay at a healthy weight, as recommended by your doctor.
  • Cut food into small pieces, eat slowly, and avoid or minimize talking during meals.
  • If you are short of breath when you eat, slow down.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to keep mucus thin and easier to cough up. Ask your doctor about how much fluid you should consume.
  • Eat and drink dairy products, especially if you are taking Prednisone (steroids).
  • Use quick and easy food recipes to save your energy.
  • Conserve energy by cooking extra food to store so that a future meal only needs to be heated.
  • Eat nutritious, well-balanced meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables to help your body fight infections, prevent illnesses, give you more energy, and help you grow stronger.


Plan your future with COPD

Know that your condition may worsen over time. Discuss with your doctor and loved ones how your treatment plan may change.

Need more help with COPD? We offer special programs to help patients manage chronic conditions. Your Optum team of doctors, nurses, care managers and educators will work with you to develop a personalized plan for managing your COPD. We’ll work with you on strategies to improve your breathing and techniques for when you are short of breath. We also emphasize self-management. That way, when you start to have symptoms you’ll know what you can do can quickly to manage them. And no matter where you need care—at home, in the hospital, at a skilled nursing facility—we make sure you get the right care in the right place at the right time.

Choose an Optum doctor to talk more about COPD.