Coping with End-Stage COPD


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive condition that affects a person’s ability to breathe well. It encompasses several medical conditions, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

In addition to a reduced ability to breathe in and out fully, symptoms can include a chronic cough and increased sputum production.

Read on to learn about ways to alleviate end-stage COPD symptoms and factors that play into your outlook if you have this difficult condition.

Signs and symptoms of end-stage COPD

End-stage COPD is marked by severe shortness of breath (dyspnea), even when at rest. At this stage, medications typically don’t work as well as they had in the past. Everyday tasks will leave you more breathless.

End-stage COPD also means increased visits to the emergency department or hospitalizations for breathing complications, lung infections, or respiratory failure.

Pulmonary hypertension is also common in end-stage COPD, which can lead to right-sided heart failure. You may experience an accelerated resting heart rate (tachycardia) of more than 100 beats per minute. Another symptom of end-stage COPD is ongoing weight loss.

Living with end-stage COPD

If you smoke tobacco products, quitting is one of the best things you can do at any stage of COPD.

Your doctor can prescribe medications to treat COPD that may also relieve your symptoms. These include bronchodilators, which help to widen your airways.

There are two types of bronchodilators. The short-acting (rescue) bronchodilator is used for the sudden onset of shortness of breath. The long-acting bronchodilator can be used every day to help control symptoms.

Glucocorticosteroids may help reduce inflammation. These medications can be delivered to your airways and lungs with an inhaler or a nebulizer. A glucocorticosteroid is commonly given in combination with a long-acting bronchodilator for treatment of COPD.

An inhaler is a pocket-sized portable device, while a nebulizer is larger and meant primarily for home use. While an inhaler is easier to carry around with you, it’s sometimes harder to use correctly.

If you have a difficult time using an inhaler, adding a spacer can help. A spacer is a small plastic tube that attaches to your inhaler.

Spraying your inhaler medication into the spacer allows for the medication to mist and fill the spacer prior to breathing it in. A spacer may help more medicine to get into your lungs and less to be trapped on the back of your throat.

A nebulizer is a machine that turns a liquid medicine into a continuous mist that you inhale for around 5 to 10 minutes at a time through a mask or mouthpiece connected by tube to the machine.

Supplemental oxygen is typically needed if you have end-stage COPD (stage 4).

The use of any of these treatments is likely to increase significantly from stage 1 (mild COPD) to stage 4.

Diet and exercise

You may also benefit from exercise training programs. Therapists for these programs can teach you breathing techniques that reduce how hard you have to work to breathe. This step can help enhance your quality of life.

You may be encouraged to eat small, high-protein meals at each sitting, such as protein shakes. A high-protein diet can improve your well-being and prevent excess weight loss.

Prepare for the weather

In addition to taking these steps, you should avoid or minimize known COPD triggers. For example, you may have greater difficulty breathing during extreme weather conditions, such as high heat and humidity or cold, dry temperatures.

Although you can’t change the weather, you can be prepared by limiting the time you spend outdoors during temperature extremes. Other steps you can take include the following:

  • Always keeping an emergency inhaler with you but not in your car. Many inhalers operate most effectively when kept at room temperature.
  • Wearing a scarf or mask when going outside in cold temperatures can help warm the air you breathe in.
  • Avoid going outdoors on days when the air quality is poor and smog and pollution levels are high.

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