If you've been diagnosed with COPD
, you probably have a lot of questions for your doctor about the disease. What causes it? How is it treated? What is your prognosis? The list may seem endless. If you're not quite sure what questions to ask, consider the following list of 10 specific questions (and answers) that you can discuss with your doctor during your next appointment:
When you ask this question, you're likely to learn that COPD is an incurable, yet preventable and treatable lung disease that also affects other systems in your body. The disease is progressive, meaning that it generally gets worse over time. To date, there are no medications that are proven to increase survival in COPD. Studies suggest that only smoking cessation, oxygen therapy
(used for 15 hours or more a day) and pulmonary rehabilitation
can slow its progression. Check out the following must-reads if you're looking for more information about the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of COPD:
Although smoking is the number one cause of COPD, your doctor will probably explain to you that there are other risk factors to consider as well; some of which are common, some, not-so-common. Being aware of risk factors for the disease prompts patients to question their own symptoms, leading to earlier diagnosis and treatment.
Contrary to popular belief, smoking is not the only cause of COPD
. Your doctor will confirm that never smokers can also develop the disease. In fact, some studies suggest that nearly 25% of those who are diagnosed with COPD have never smoked. What causes COPD in people who don't smoke? Take a look at the following:
Although no one can accurately predict your life expectancy after a COPD diagnosis, the prognosis of the disease depends upon several factors, most importantly, whether or not you still smoke. If you continue to smoke after your diagnosis, your lung function will decline more rapidly and the disease will progress much faster than if you were to quit completely. Other factors associated with COPD life expectancy are your degree of airway obstruction, your level of dyspnea, your body mass index (BMI) and your exercise tolerance. For an in-depth look at how these factors are determined and what you can do to improve your prognosis, read the following:
You may be wondering why you should quit smoking when you've smoked for decades and the damage to your lungs has already been done. Medical experts agree, however, that quitting is the first-line treatment for COPD. In fact, some studies suggest that lung function decline after smoking cessation actually normalizes, declining at the same rate as anybody else of the same sex, age, height and weight.
Spirometry is a pulmonary function test that is used to diagnose COPD and determine its severity. Ideally, your doctor should thoroughly explain the results to you in a way that you can understand them. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. There are three values measured in spirometry that are critically important to making a COPD diagnosis: your forced vital capacity (FVC), your forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) and the ratio of your FEV1 to your FVC (FEV1/FVC). Monitoring your results over time helps your doctor determine if your COPD is improving, staying the same, or getting worse.
According to the Global Initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease, COPD is divided into four stages: mild, moderate, severe and very severe. Staging of the disease is accomplished through spirometry. No matter what stage you're in, the disease affects everyone differently. How good you feel and how much activity you can tolerate depends upon a number of factors, including whether or not you continue to smoke, how much exercise you do and the type of diet you consume.
Not everyone with COPD needs supplemental oxygen. Your doctor will measure the amount of oxygen in your blood by taking blood from an artery in your wrist or by using a device called a pulse oximeter. The general goal of COPD treatment is to keep your oxygen saturation level above 88 percent. If it consistently drops below this, your doctor may recommend that you begin oxygen therapy.
Ask your doctor what you can do to keep your disease from worsening. As we talked about earlier, smoking cessation is the number one priority if you smoke. But, quitting smoking is only the first step. Incorporating other important lifestyle changes is also essential.
Surgical intervention is an option for a select group of patients who meet very specific criteria. There are three types of lung surgery your doctor may discuss with you once your symptoms are severe enough and you've reached the most advanced stages of the disease: Bullectomy, lung volume reduction surgery and lung transplant. Having a lung transplant may improve your quality of life and allow you to perform more activies, but it has not yet been proven to increase long-term survival. In contrast, short-term survival rates for COPD patients who undergo lung transplants continue to improve.