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About COPD - Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Know if I Have COPD?

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a lung disorder that makes it hard to breathe.  Early symptoms can be so mild that people mistakenly chalk them up to ‘getting old’.  People with COPD may develop chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or both.  COPD tends to get worse over time, but catching it early, along with good care, can help many people stay active, and may slow the progression of the disease.

How is COPD Diagnosed?

Your doctor will perform a physical exam to detect COPD.  First, your doctor will listen to your chest as you breathe.  You will be asked about your smoking history, and whether you have a family history of COPD.  The amount of oxygen in your blood may be measured with a blood test or a pulse oximeter, which is a painless device that clips to a finger.

Another test for COPD is Spirometry.  This test measures how much air you can move in and out of your lungs, and how quickly.  You take a deep breath and blow as hard as you can into a tube.  You may repeat the test after inhaling a puff of a bronchodilator medicine, which opens your airways.  Spirometry can find problems even before you have symptoms of COPD.  It also helps to determine the severity of COPD. 

How Does COPD Affect My Lungs?
To understand COPD, it helps to understand how the lungs work. The air that you breathe goes down your windpipe into tubes in your lungs called bronchial (BRONG-ke-al) tubes or airways.

Within the lungs, your bronchial tubes branch into thousands of smaller, thinner tubes called bronchioles (BRONG-ke-ols). These tubes end in bunches of tiny round air sacs called alveoli (al-VEE-uhl-eye).

Small blood vessels called capillaries (KAP-ih-lare-ees) run through the walls of the air sacs. When air reaches the air sacs, oxygen passes through the air sac walls into the blood in the capillaries. At the same time, carbon dioxide (a waste gas) moves from the capillaries into the air sacs. This process is called gas exchange.

The airways and air sacs are elastic (stretchy). When you breathe in, each air sac fills up with air like a small balloon. When you breathe out, the air sacs deflate and the air goes out.

In COPD, less air flows in and out of the airways because of one or more of the following:

  • The airways and air sacs lose their elastic quality.
  • The walls between many of the air sacs are destroyed.
  • The walls of the airways become thick and inflamed.
  • The airways produce more mucus than usual, which can clog them.

How Can Untreated COPD Affect Me?

Severe COPD can make it difficult to walk, cook, clean house or even bathe.  Coughing up excess mucus and feeling short of breath may worsen.  Advanced illness can also cause:

  • Swollen legs or feet from fluid buildup
  • Weight loss
  • Less muscle strength and endurance.

Who can be helped by Pulmonary Rehabilitation?

Almost 15 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with COPD, and it’s estimated that another 12 million may have COPD that has not been diagnosed.  (COPD.com) COPD is currently the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States.  COPD includes Chronic Bronchitis and Emphysema.

  • "Chronic bronchitis" is increased cough and mucus production caused by inflammation of the airways. Bronchitis is considered chronic (or long-term) if a person coughs and produces excess mucus most days during three months in a year, for two years in a row.
  • "Emphysema" is associated with damage of the air sacs and/or collapse of the smallest breathing tubes in the lungs.

Although cigarette smoking is a major cause of these lung diseases, causing up to 80-90% of all cases, it can also result from occupational hazards -- working in a coal mine, foundry, farm -- or from exposure to asbestos.  Long-term exposure to other lung irritants—such as air pollution, chemical fumes, or dust—may also contribute to COPD.  Individuals who suffer from lung diseases other than COPD, such as black lung, bronchiectasis, and interstitial pulmonary fibrosis can also benefit from Pulmonary Rehabilitation therapy.

What type of therapy is provided in Pulmonary Rehabilitation?

Through 36 sessions of outpatient therapy, in 2-3 one hour visits each week, individuals enrolled in the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program receive an exercise and education program designed specifically to meet their individual needs.  Rather than group exercise sessions, therapy is provided in a one-to-one setting.  The program is staffed with 3 specially trained registered respiratory therapists, one of whom is also a registered nurse.  Participants receive monitoring of their breath sounds, heart and respiratory rates, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation during each session.

Instruction includes:
  • 1. Breathing retraining exercises to decrease shortness of breath
  • 2. Panic control and relaxation techniques; and
  • 3. Reconditioning exercise using treadmill, bicycle and other equipment designed to strengthen weakened muscles.

Education is an important part of pulmonary rehabilitation.  Topics include:
  • 1. Lung function,
  • 2. Medications,
  • 3. Oxygen therapy,
  • 4. Prevention of respiratory infections; and
  • 5. Various techniques to decrease shortness of breath with daily activities

Consultation with a registered dietitian and social worker is also available to participants.

After completion of the 36 therapy sessions, participants may return monthly for self-paid, follow-up visits.  Additionally, small group classes with supervised exercise two days per week are available for a low monthly cost.   Once you have completed your initial 36 sessions, the Pulmonary Rehab staff will give you more information about these programs.

Why Consider the Outpatient Pulmonary Rehabilitation Center of Mon Health Medical Center?

Most people who complete a pulmonary rehab course feel better at the end. They are able to perform more activity without becoming short of breath, and they report their overall quality of life is better.

What Are Some Other Things I Can Do to Help with My COPD?

It’s important to stay active, even if you feel short of breath.  You may need to pace yourself or use oxygen therapy, but staying active will make you stronger.  Discuss your exercise plan with your doctor.
Avoid secondhand smoke, chemical fumes and other lung irritants.  Be sure to get vaccinated against the flu and pneumococcal disease.  Wash your hands frequently, and avoid hacking, sniffling people during cold and flu season.

How do I enroll in outpatient Pulmonary Rehabilitation?

The outpatient Pulmonary Rehabilitation program at Mon Health requires a physician referral.  Your physician can provide the test results and other information that must have been completed within the year prior to entering the program.  This information includes:  a history and physical exam by your physician; lung function studies (PFT’s); electrocardiogram (EKG); chest x-ray; and a complete blood count (CBC).
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