Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a term that encompasses conditions such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Having a diagnosis of COPD can be life changing but by empowering patients with the right tools, they can learn to live life to the fullest.

 

The importance of self-management plans

 

Learning how to cope with the condition is crucial. This doesn’t mean a patient should have to deal with their COPD alone. Each person will experience their disease and symptoms differently so it is the role of healthcare professionals to help a patient develop a self-management plan to suit them. There is no cure for COPD, so patients must learn to adapt their lives and daily routines in order to deal with their symptoms.

Patients need to understand that their condition is chronic. Some days COPD patients’ breathing will be worse than others and they may shy away from doing things they love. Many people may be afraid to exercise or exert themselves because they are worried that becoming out of breath will harm them. In fact, people with severe lung problems benefit a lot from exercise – even doing things in the home can be extremely beneficial. So they should be reassured not to be afraid and be encouraged to keep active.

 

Quitting smoking is vital

 

Quitting smoking is the most important thing a person with COPD can do. Those people who have been unable to quit should know that there is specialised support and pharmacotherapy available to them and they should not feel guilty or embarrassed when seeking help.

People need to know that COPD isn’t a death sentence. That life can go on after diagnosis and, even though things may not be the same, there is a way to manage the condition and not be managed by it.

There are also pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) programmes to help improve patients’ symptoms through exercise, nutrition, advice about quitting smoking, vaccinations and self-management techniques. Availability of PR is variable across the UK, this needs to be addressed if we are to aid patients to take control of their condition and to keep as healthy and active as possible.

 

Control your COPD, don't let it control you

 

Having a social life is also extremely important for people with COPD as it can be a very isolating condition. Initiatives such as the BLF’s Breathe Easy groups provide an opportunity for people to be active in their lives by making friends and taking part in specifically designed classes such as exercise, singing, dancing and even Thai Chi.

For World COPD Day this year, the BLF encouraged people with COPD to share the things that they still love doing. People shared their photos of kayaking, zip-wiring, and travelling around the world; living their life to the full. People need to know that COPD isn’t a death sentence. That life can go on after diagnosis and, even though things may not be the same, there is a way to manage the condition and not be managed by it.

To mark World COPD Day, the BLF released the first ever nationally available COPD patient passport, a new tool to help people get personalised advice about their condition, also available online.