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Managing COPD through Primary Care: 5 Questions to Ask Your Doctor

FiesingerTroy_MDWhether you are having difficulty breathing or recently received a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) diagnosis, there are solutions to help you breathe better. Your primary care team is there to equip you with the knowledge and resources you need to navigate your symptoms and COPD diagnosis. The 5 questions below can serve as a valuable guide to help you understand your condition, manage symptoms, and make informed decisions about your health care journey.   

What may be surprising is there is currently millions of Americans living with COPD and they don’t know it. We’re working with the COPD Foundation to help find and support the “missing millions.”   

What is COPD and how do I know if I have it? 

COPD is a lung condition that makes it hard to breathe. It's often caused by smoking or exposure to lung irritants and while it can't be cured, treatments are available to help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. COPD usually gets worse over time and can make everyday activities like walking or climbing stairs difficult. It can cause coughing that produces a lot of mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and other symptoms.  

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, the next step may be a spirometry breathing test. The test measures how much air your lungs can breathe in or out, as well as how easily and fast you can blow air out of your lungs. Your primary care doctor or advanced practice provider (APP)* will use it to determine if you have COPD.  

What kind of treatment options are available to me? 

Each patient with COPD is unique and requires a personalized approach to their care. Your primary care doctor or APP will work closely with you to carefully design a COPD treatment plan tailored to your needs. Your treatment plan may include:  

What types of medications might be considered for my treatment plan? 

As part of your COPD treatment, your primary care doctor or APP may prescribe you several medications depending on your symptoms. Each of them serves a different purpose, and your care team will talk you through your specific treatment plan. Some of the categories of medication you may be prescribed include: 

  • Daily Use Medications: Usually used long-term and take days or weeks to show their effects.   
  • Medications Specifically Designed to Manage Flare-Ups: These should be immediately taken if you experience more shortness of breath and coughing than usual or experience wheezing or chest tightness at rest.  
  • Short-Acting Medications: Designed for prompt symptom relief, they help by relaxing the muscles around the lungs’ breathing tubes.   
  • Oral Corticosteroids: Medications that reduce swelling in the breathing tubes of the lungs. These medications are only used for a short time during a COPD flare-up.  
  • Antibiotics: May also be prescribed to treat lung infections which are often the underlying cause of COPD flare-ups.   

How often should I see my primary care doctor or APP? 

We typically recommend patients with COPD schedule their primary care visits based on the severity of their condition.   

  • Patients with mild to moderate COPD should schedule appointments with their healthcare provider twice a year.  
  • Patients with severe but stable COPD should visit their healthcare provider every three months (four times a year).  
  • Patients with severe and unstable COPD require more frequent visits tailored to their specific needs.  

What resources are available to me, to learn more about my condition and how to manage it?  

Your primary care team has tools and resources available to them to help you manage your COPD, but one of the most important things they do is provide you with the knowledge and resources to manage your symptoms independently. 

In partnership with the COPD Foundation we have developed a COPD educational folder to help those with COPD manage their symptoms, avoid worsening their condition, and feel empowered to take control of their health. We also are offering a complimentary webinar in partnership with the COPD Foundation. Join us!  

This webinar will include:  

  • A discussion focused on COPD identification, treatment, rehabilitation, and the importance of primary care with Dr. Hatfield, Chief Physician Executive at Village Medical, and Dr. Mannino, Chief Medical Officer and Co-Founder of the COPD Foundation   
  • Real patient stories – we’ll hear how someone goes from a COPD diagnosis to successful treatment and a full life 
  • A Q&A discussion where the audience will have a chance to ask panelists about COPD and our partnership 

Breathing Better with COPD: The Importance of Primary Care
March 14, 2024 @ 3 pm EST  

Primary care doctors and APPs play a key role in providing care for the whole patient. Conversations with your care team are key to breathing better with COPD long term. We hope these questions help empower you to take control of your health through primary care.  

 *An advanced practice provider is defined as a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. 


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