No. The “C” in COPD stands for “chronic,” which means there is no cure. But with the help of doctors, respiratory symptoms can be treated and damage to the lungs can be slowed.
While no treatment can fully reverse or stop COPD, the single best way to slow the advancement of the disease is to stop smoking. Even those with severe COPD are likely to benefit and reduce further progression of the disease if they quit smoking.
Learn more about Treatment Options for COPD.
While the symptoms of asthma and COPD are similar, they are different diseases. In COPD, there is permanent damage to the lungs, so treatment to open up the airways is limited. In asthma, inflammation causes muscles in the airways to constrict and the airways to narrow. Symptoms are sporadic and treatment to reduce inflammation usually works well.
Both chronic bronchitis and emphysema fall under the umbrella of COPD. Chronic bronchitis is the inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, which connect the windpipe to the lungs. When the tubes are inflamed or infected, less air is able to flow to and from the lungs resulting in a mucus-inducing cough. Emphysema affects the air sacs and the smallest breathing tubes in the lungs, which lose elasticity similar to an overused rubber band. When lungs lose their elasticity, the affected areas become enlarged and it becomes difficult to get air into and out of the lungs.
The heart and lungs work together. The heart pumps oxygen-rich blood from the lungs into the arteries and pumps deoxygenated blood from the veins into the lungs for reoxygenation. COPD decreases oxygen levels and causes the lung's blood vessels to narrow making it difficult for the heart to pump blood into the lungs. Over time, the heart muscle weakens and pumps less effectively. This is a type of heart failure.
For people with severe COPD, doctors may recommend home oxygen therapy to help with shortness of breath. The need for oxygen therapy is found by measuring the amount of oxygen in your blood stream with a test called an arterial blood gas (
Some people with COPD do not need oxygen when they are inactive, but do need it when exercising or doing other activities. Using extra oxygen more than 15 hours per day can not only help with shortness of breath, but also protect the heart and other organs from damage, help you sleep, improve alertness and help you live longer.
Using supplemental oxygen is common for COPD patients and is referred to as "wearing" oxygen. While long-term oxygen therapy has been shown to improve quality and length of life, it does mean a big change in lifestyle. Many patients feel self-conscious about wearing oxygen in public, while others are intimidated by the physical challenge of using oxygen and have concerns about safety.
Some individuals may only need to use oxygen when they are active or while sleeping, but most patients use oxygen 24 hours a day. Many convenient portable systems are available, and you’ll probably be able to do more activities than before because your body will be getting the oxygen it needs. When used as prescribed, oxygen therapy does not cause any harm to your lungs or body and is not addictive. Oxygen therapy is very safe as long as you keep your face and oxygen away from flames.
Smoking cessation is the single most effective intervention to slowing the progression of COPD. Treatment typically includes pulmonary rehabilitation, which includes education, counseling, exercise, nutrition and breathing therapies, combined with drug therapies such as long-acting bronchodilators and short-acting inhalers. In severe cases, inhaled steroids and long-term oxygen therapy are often prescribed. However, as the disease progresses, patients are less likely to get symptomatic relief from traditional treatments. At this point, doctors may begin exploring surgical options.
Learn more about Treatment Options for COPD.
Surgery is usually performed on patients with very severe symptoms who have not improved with medication and have a hard time breathing most of the time. Two types of surgery are considered in cases of severe COPD: lung volume reduction surgery and lung transplantation. Learn more about these surgeries.
Exercise decreases shortness of breath and improves your energy level. It also decreases the risks of heart disease, high blood pressure and depression. Exercise increases bone and muscle strength, endurance, relaxation, restful sleep and overall quality of life.
By starting slowly and using coordinated breathing techniques, you will be able to find an exercise program that works for you. Difficult breathing can cause you to become anxious, which can lead to inactivity. The more inactive you are, the more short of breath you become. The increased shortness of breath in turn increases your anxiety about activity. If you exercise, you can beat this cycle.
You should continue to try to quit smoking, and seek additional help. Ask your doctor to help you find the right smoking cessation program. Many smokers are addicted to nicotine, and your doctor can help you find the right nicotine replacement therapy or other medication to help avoid the urge to smoke and relieve withdrawal symptoms. Support groups and smokers’ hotlines are also available to assist you.