While it may be alarming to receive a diagnosis of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), it’s important to educate yourself about the disease and what treatment choices are available to you. Making these decisions as soon as possible is key to improving one’s quality of life.

What is COPD?

COPD is a general term for a group of lung conditions, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema, where airflow from the lungs becomes increasingly blocked over time. Symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing or a chronic cough.

The American Lung Association estimates that 16.4 million people in the U.S. are living with COPD. 85 to 90% of those cases are caused by smoking. However, nonsmokers can get COPD as well. Long-term exposure to secondhand smoke, air pollution and fumes from certain chemicals can also play a role.

Rocky Higgins, Respiratory Therapist at Dignity Health, Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC) advises her patients to follow a handful of basic steps when diagnosed with any lung condition, including COPD.

Listen to your Healthcare Provider

First, Higgins recommends that you get on board right away with your physician and respiratory care team. COPD treatment may include medication, oxygen therapy or a pulmonary rehabilitation program.

“We are all here to help you be successful and healthy,” she says. “Ask questions so that you understand your care plan, and don’t hesitate to ask your pharmacist if any questions arise about your medication.”

Quit Smoking

If you currently smoke or vape, quit. For someone with COPD, quitting smoking will make a huge difference. But Higgins recognizes that for many of us, it’s easier said than done.

“Any habit change is difficult. You need to WANT to change the behavior and recognize that it will have its challenges,” she notes. “Try to be able to laugh at yourself rather than dog yourself when things roll in the wrong direction. Remember you are human. We sometimes learn through mistakes, but often it’s the best way to learn.”

This excellent advice is especially relevant for those who attend YRMC’s smoking cessation classes. Higgins has been a program facilitator since 1986. Each session includes seven 90-minute classes and offers discounted or free Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) to qualified clients.

“There’s no pre-sign up. Clients can just show up to the introductory class and learn about the program. They can sign up at that time,” says Higgins.

You can find out when the next session begins by contacting YRMC at (928) 771-5102.

“Help is also available to all Arizona residents by calling the Arizona Smokers Hotline (ASHLine) at 1-800-556-6222,” Higgins adds. “ASHLine offers phone conversations with trained tobacco/nicotine coaches and NRT to clients who qualify.”

Get Some Exercise

“Quitting smoking and exercising go hand in hand,” states Higgins. “Replace those cigarettes with light hand weights, exercise bands or squeezy balls.” She explains that the idea is to replace a negative reaction (the urge to smoke) with a positive result (exercise).

Incorporating some type of exercise will also help your body through the withdrawal symptoms and take your mind off of those negative feelings. “It is a known fact that exercise creates endorphins, those feel-good chemicals created in our brains,” says Higgins.

For those who have COPD, regular exercise can also strengthen the lungs and improve circulation, which may increase the flow of oxygen throughout the body and reduce symptoms.

Find Support

Emotional support can be an integral part of staying on top of COPD. It’s important to know how to recognize and handle any feelings of anxiety, stress or depression that may arise. Talk to your healthcare team about counselors or support groups that may be available to you.

Many people who attend the YRMC smoking cessation classes are appreciative of the support they receive from those who are taking the class. They note that it helps to share their experiences with someone who is going through a similar time in their lives.

A healthy and happy life is possible with COPD. Experts recommend that you keep the dialog going with your care providers, stay active and seek out the support you need.