What COPD Treatment Options Are Available?
The most important thing you can do if you’ve been diagnosed with COPD is to quit smoking. According to Mayo Clinic, it is the only way to keep COPD from getting worse.
There are also many different medications available to treat COPD; your physician will help you select medications that will best fit your needs.
Bronchodilators, Inhaled Steroids, and Combination Inhalers
Bronchodilators help to relax the muscles of the airways, which makes breathing easier, and improves shortness of breath. There are short-acting bronchodilators and long-acting bronchodilators available.
Examples of short-acting bronchodilators include:
- Albuterol (ProAir HFA, Ventolin HFA)
- Levalbuterol (Xopenex HFA)
- Ipratropium (Atrovent)
Examples of long-acting bronchodilators include:
- Tiotropium (Spiriva)
- Salmeterol (Serevent)
- Formoterol (Foradil)
- Arformoterol (Brovana)
Inhaled steroids are corticosteroids that reduce inflammation of the airways and help to reduce exacerbations. These inhalers are particularly helpful to people with frequent exacerbations. Examples of inhaled steroids include fluticasone (Flovent HFA) and budenoside (Pulmicort Flexhaler).
Combination inhalers utilize both inhaled steroids and bronchodilators. Examples include salmeterol and fluticasone (Advair) and formoterol and budenoside (Symbicort).
Oral Steroids, Phosphodiesterase-4 Inhibitors, and Theophylline
Oral steroids may be used for people who have a moderate or severe exacerbation of their COPD because this medication helps to prevent the COPD from worsening. Long-term use of steroids is discouraged because of the side effects, which include weight gain, hyperglycemia, osteoporosis, cataracts, and infections.
Phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors are an oral medication for people with severe COPD. This medication targets airway inflammation and helps to relax these tight airways. A phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitor is roflumilast (Daliresp).
Theophylline is an inexpensive, effective medication that improves breathing and reduces exacerbations. However, low doses are recommended initially because of its side effects, which include tremor and tachycardia.
Oxygen Therapy and Pulmonary Rehabilitation
Oxygen therapy may be utilized for some people if they are having a hard time maintaining adequate oxygen levels in their blood. Some people only require oxygen while sleeping, while others require oxygen all the time. Your physician will help determine when it is necessary for you, and will help you obtain oxygen – insurance can be picky about obtaining oxygen for home use.
Pulmonary rehabilitation is a multifaceted program that combines education, exercise, counseling, and nutrition counseling. Statistics show that participants have shorter hospital stays, an improvement in the ability to participate in activities of daily living, and a general improvement in the quality of life.
COPD Life Expectancy and Outlook
We discussed the fact earlier that COPD is progressive – this means that there is no cure, and that it typically worsens with time.
You may have read over the section on COPD stages and felt panicked. However, predicting life expectancy is not necessarily cut-and-dry.
Physicians use the GOLD system as well as the COPD stages that we have discussed in order to predict life expectancy. We know that as the grades and stages increase, the life expectancy worsens.
With all of this being said, it is very difficult to predict life expectancy for someone with COPD because the medications used to treat the condition can improve the condition temporarily and improve COPD symptoms.
Is COPD Fatal?
This is a classic “yes and no” answer. As we’ve already discussed, it is very difficult to determine an accurate life expectancy for someone with COPD. It is also difficult to predict whether someone will die from their COPD.
Most of the time, someone does not die specifically as a result of COPD, but rather die specifically from COPD, but rather from complications from their disease. For example, pneumonia and heart failure are complications that can develop, and they can be fatal.
So – yes, COPD can be fatal. But – no, you may not die from COPD, you may die from something completely unrelated.
The Bottom Line…
This all-encompassing article may have been overwhelming, but if you had questions about your condition, it is our hope that it was answered above or given you a practical understanding of what COPD is and what you can discuss with your physician at your next appointment.
Please remember that this information is a general guide and does not replace any advice from your physician. It's also important to always talk to your doctor about new symptoms you're experiencing, available treatment options, and next steps.