Is it COPD?

Are you concerned about a loved one because they don’t have the energy they used to have or seem short of breath?

Helpful Highlights

  • Many people, especially current and former smokers, may assume that they have COPD.

  • Some illnesses that persist for weeks or even months, like an untreated upper respiratory infection or pneumonia, may look like COPD.

  • It's important, especially if your loved one has risk factors, to see their primary care provider because early detection is key to good COPD symptom management.

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Simple physical changes that increase or do not resolve could mean a change in your loved one's medical condition. During their next primary care provider visit, share subtle, ongoing changes. Most of the time, a person will tell their healthcare provider “I’m fine.” The changes occurring slowly over time are now normal for them and not apparent that those changes indicate a potential problem.

COPD - Indications

What is COPD?

COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is a common chronic inflammatory lung disease and refers to a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing difficulty.   Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the most common conditions within COPD.  

Although COPD is not curable, it is treatable.  Early detection and treatment of COPD can change the course and progression of the disease.

Early detection

Common symptoms at the onset of COPD may include:

  • Increasing breathlessness – first appearing during exercise or prolonged activity 

  • Waking up feeling breathless (including during the night)

  • A persistent cough with or without phlegm that does not go away 

  • Frequent respiratory infections

  • Sleeping on more than 1 pillow

  • Difficulty taking a deep breath

  • Lack of energy

  • Wheezing

  • Chest tightness

How to reduce COPD onset risk (or worsening)

  • STOP SMOKING.  Quitting smoking is the single most important action to take.

  • If not a smoker, don’t start.

  • Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.

  • Be aware of other dangers to the lungs - chemicals, dust, and fumes at home and in the workplace. Wear a face mask when there is a potential for exposure.

What can you do for your loved one?

  • Accompany them to visits with their primary care provider to encourage them to talk about changes.

  • Observe for subtle changes in demeanor or physical well-being and report the changes, such as:

    • My mother used to walk around the block, but now she is short of breath getting her mail.

    • My father no longer has the appetite he used to have and says he’s too tired to eat.

COPD - Sleeping

  • Ask questions, such as:

    • If COPD is a new diagnosis, what should I look for that warrants a visit to the MD before the next scheduled appointment?

    • When should I be worried and call 911?

    • How can I keep my loved one out of the hospital?

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Helpful is an app to make caregiving easier. We integrate your loved one’s insurance benefits, medical records and caregiving guides into an immediate, accessible and user-friendly experience. Helpful supports your care needs by eliminating administrative tasks and providing technology to support your caregiving experience.

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Elderly man is smiling at his relative caregiver