If you have just received your diagnosis from your physician that you have COPD most likely you are struggling with shortness of breath, exercise intolerance, a persistent cough with excess mucus, and fatigue. Lung disease is stressful and the emotions you are feeling are normal. Whether you’re feeling helpless, anxious, or you think the path ahead of you is insurmountable, know that you are not alone.
Living with chronic lung disease means you will need to make necessary lifestyle adjustments. It doesn’t have to mean that life will not be enjoyable or you will not be able to participate in the things you love to do.
Letting your emotions get the best of you can result in making mistakes in your treatment. The following paragraphs will outline mistakes new COPD patients frequently make that can worsen symptoms and be dangerous to your health.
Failing to Conserve Your Energy
Part of being a COPD patient is learning and making the proper physical activity adjustments to avoid exacerbating your shortness of breath. If you overexert yourself, you will become short of breath quickly and your COPD makes it hard for you to recover. Not being able to breathe properly is scary and nothing to be taken lightly.
Activities you have done in the past may need to be changed to account for your COPD. These activities can range from exercise to simply picking up the house. You will need to plan your day differently and organize your home and life with the conservation of energy in mind.
It’s important to learn how to relax and ask for help when you need it. It doesn’t sound so bad to hear that relaxation must become more important in your life, does it? Not only does it mean spending more time off your feet, but it also means trying to get rid of daily stressors so your mind can relax as well.
Relaxation can be as simple as spending time enjoying a hobby, reading a good book or going places you enjoy. Relaxation is a process you need to use to decrease stress on your mind and body to create a better quality of life. Relaxing isn’t easy for all people, particularly if you are accustomed to leading a fast-paced life. If relaxing isn’t easy for you, this will be a challenge and take practice and patience.
Learning how to spread out your tasks throughout the day is going to be critical to conserving your energy. Start by taking short breaks throughout the day. Even if you are out of the house running errands you will need to sit down occasionally and rest for a bit. During these breaks, try and make a mind to body connection and listen to what that connection is telling you.
- Breathe deeply in and out over and over until you mind is calm.
- By doing this you should feel your heart rate slow.
- Continue breathing and just be for 5 minutes to start and gradually increase the time until you consistently do this process for 10-20 minutes.
- You need this time for yourself to rejuvenate, revive, and get on with the rest of your day.
Not Using Your Medications Properly
You will be prescribed medications to help control COPD symptoms and prevent symptom flare ups. It is vital to follow your treatment plans and take your medications as directed by your doctor. Generally, the lengthier and more complicated the medication regimen is, the more likely you may be to get frustrated and start altering it. Failure to take your medications exactly as prescribed can be risky, resulting in;
- Increased Symptoms
- Progression of your Disease
- Potentially Hospitalization
When it comes to COPD, knowledge is power. With COPD, it is important for you to learn all you can about your disease and be armed with the knowledge of how to help yourself live the best possible life that you can. It’s easy to just rely on your doctor to have all the answers, it is equally as important to be well-informed yourself to work in conjunction with your doctor and other therapists as a team. You need to be responsible for understanding what medications you are taking, how they work, and what the potential side-effects are for each medication.
The following are tips to avoid medication errors and stay on the path to living the best life with your COPD:
- Know the name of the medication you take and what dose you are on.
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist questions about anything that is unclear to you.
- Use just one pharmacy. This way the pharmacist knows all the medications you are on and if one may interact negatively with the other.
- Make a list of all your medications and bring this to every doctor appointment. Your list needs to include any herbal supplements, vitamins, and holistic remedies you take to give your doctor a complete picture of your medication regimen and prevent interactions.
- If you are having trouble keeping track of all the medications, have your spouse, a family member, or friend help you. You can also download an App for your phone or tablet.
Continuing to Smoke
It’s no secret that quitting smoking is not an easy thing to do. However, a lot of new COPD patients figure that since they already have lung disease that they might as well keep smoking since the damage is already done. Quitting smoking can be one of the most important things you can do to decrease your COPD symptoms and slow the progression of your disease.
If you’re thinking about quitting smoking, then you have already made one of the most important steps on your journey to controlling your COPD. Spend some time evaluating your smoking habit.
- Throughout one day, break down how many cigarettes you smoke and when you smoke them, and what events trigger you into feeling like you need to smoke.
- Write all these down and analyze the data.
- By knowing what triggers you to smoke, you can begin the process of avoiding those triggers and preventing your urge to smoke.
- You need to recognize these triggers and go to battle with them.
- Replace these triggers with new interests and activities.
This isn’t easy, but vital if you want to be successful at quitting smoking long-term. Quitting smoking may be the hardest thing you have ever tried to do and many people cannot do it alone. Join a support group, call the local hotline for quitting smoking, or ask your doctor for suggestions or medications that can help you succeed.
This is not an overnight process and you need to be patient and remain committed to your success. It is also important for you to forgive yourself if you fail. Relapse is common and you need to deal with it by being grateful for how far you have come. Analyze what triggered you to relapse, and work on removing that trigger from your daily life.
Practicing Unhealthy Eating Habits
As a new COPD patient, your nutritional needs should be a top priority. Getting to and maintaining a healthy weight is vital for helping to lessen your symptoms from COPD. Let’s face it, a lot of people treat their anxiety and depression by medicating with food.
Eating temporarily makes you feel good and can make you forget about being diagnosed with lung disease. However, if you carry extra weight it makes it harder to breathe. Belly weight can hinder the ability of your diaphragm to descend, making it difficult for your lungs to expand. If you are already at a disadvantage from your COPD, adding poor nutrition to the equation puts you at risk for serious health concerns.
It is up to you to advocate for your health and make proper nutritional choices daily. Self-study and close communication with your doctor are key to developing healthy eating habits. Research foods that are best for the specific type of COPD you have and begin to introduce these foods into your daily meals.
You will also need to eliminate those foods that will worsen your symptoms. If self-study and talking with your doctor isn’t enough, see a nutritionist. A nutritionist can help you develop daily meal plans and be a source of support as you start your path to healthier eating. Enlisting the support of your loved ones is also important since meals are such a key element in our daily lives.
Not Familiarizing Yourself with your Healthcare/Insurance Plan
The cost of doctor visits, tests and medications can add up quickly when you have a chronic illness. To avoid very costly treatments, it is of the utmost importance to familiarize yourself with facilities or services that are in network with the insurance you have. This includes pharmacies, physicians, medications, and outpatient services in your area or that you are considering for treatment.
Ask a family member to assist you in these decisions or to help you find the resources to answer these questions for you. This will help avoid the chance of extra expenses and save time with scheduling unnecessary appointments. Please be sure reach out to your insurance company to answer any questions you may have. If you are having trouble paying for your medical expenses, ask your physician for a referral to a case manager that can help you navigate the complicated insurance business to help maximize your benefits or enroll you in other subsidized programs.
Above all else, do not stop your treatment plan and medications because you cannot afford them. With some guidance, there are many options to help you get the treatments you need without breaking the bank.
Not Getting Vaccinated
Each year thousands of people get sick from diseases that could have been prevented by vaccines. With your COPD, you are at a higher risk for serious health problems because your lungs lack the ability to fight off respiratory infections.
Even if you have never received vaccinations in the past, talk with your doctor about getting these up to date. Vaccines are one of the safest, and easiest ways for you to prevent diseases that would exacerbate your COPD symptoms.
Most vaccine side-effects are usually mild and go away on their own with no doctor interventions. Severe side-effects are rare and can be avoided with an open chain of communication between you and your primary care physician.
Vaccines you absolutely will need are as follows:
- Influenza vaccine to protect against seasonal flu each year.
- Pneumococcal vaccine to protect against serious cases of pneumonia.
- TDAP vaccine to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough.
- Zoster vaccine to protect against shingles (a version of the chicken pox that adults get later in life).
This list is not meant to be exhaustive. There are other vaccines that may be necessary based on your lifestyle, travel habits, and other factors. Please consult your doctor to discuss what vaccines are right for you.
Being in Denial
Being newly diagnosed with COPD is often one of the most stressful times you will have in your life. To live means to breathe, and your body’s ability to breathe is compromised. While this diagnosis will be troubling, you must embrace your new condition and tackle it head on. It is very easy for you to fall into depression, not manage your symptoms, and let your quality of life become worse. Many people let these negative feelings drag them down, putting them at a disadvantage from the start.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, know you are not alone and there are many resources you can take advantage of that will support you. First, it is important to maintain the connections you currently have, whether those connections are community groups, church members, neighbors, friends, or family members. Most of these people will be happy to help support you, but they won’t know unless you reach out to them.
If you have children and can financially afford the help, hire a sitter a few times a week to give you a break. The sitter can not only take care of the children’s need for a time, but can also help with housework and other daily chores which will give you time to relax. Find a support group that will help you connect with people that are also diagnosed with COPD. It is important for you to talk with others who have similar COPD symptoms and learn how they manage their day to day life.
There are local or online support groups that are full of people experiencing the same day to day challenges and emotions that you are. There are also support groups for family members of people with COPD. Encourage your loved ones to attend because caregiver burnout can impact anyone who helps care for people with chronic illness.
Please remember that a chronic illness can really take a toll on you and reduce your quality of life, but only if you let it. Find new meaning and purpose in your life and try to be grateful each day.
One of the worst habits new patients with COPD adopt is focusing on the negative and restrictive things that now exist in their life. Take a moment and write down what you are grateful for and remember these anytime your COPD starts to bring you down.
Surround yourself with understanding, loving, and helpful people. These people care for you and want to help you, and learning when to accept help will only improve your quality of life. By opening yourself to others, you will feel better about your situation and yourself.
Find a physician that specializes in treating COPD and closely follow your specialized treatment plan. Ultimately you are in control of your future with COPD, and avoiding the 7 pitfalls that were previously described will help you maximize your treatment goals, decrease the speed of your disease progression, and help you lead a healthier, more productive life.