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Living With COPD

COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, a disease involving airways in the lungs, lung tissue or both. COPD is a long term disease which never completely goes away and can become worse as time goes on. It is a combination of emphysema, chronic bronchitis and in some cases asthma.

Emphysema damages the air sacs in the lungs, making it difficult to exhale trapped air. Chronic bronchitis describes the long-term scarring and thickening of the walls of the bronchial tubes. This also leads to increased mucus production in the bronchial tubes, further narrowing your airways.

UnityPoint Health - Meriter COPD Program

The COPD Program at UnityPoint Health - Meriter is designed to give both in-patients and out-patients an opportunity to learn more about Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, associated medications, disease management and exercise. We also assist in creating a plan for the enrolled patient when they are experiencing an exacerbation (flare up of COPD). This program is free of charge and is taught in the patient's hospital room and over the phone once the patient is home. We also provide educational material for review. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at (608) 417-6814.

How Your Lungs Work

Our airways are shaped like the roots of a tree.

  • When you inhale oxygen-rich air, it passes through your nose and mouth and down into your windpipe (trachea)
  • The air passes through a series of smaller and smaller branches called bronchial tubes.
  • The air reaches the tiny air sacs, called alveoli, in your lungs.
  • From there, oxygen is transferred to your blood, which will carry the oxygen throughout your body.
  • You exhale the air, which is now oxygen-poor, from your lungs.

Risk Factors

  • Smoking, the #1 cause of COPD
  • Secondhand smoke
  • Environmental pollutants
  • Genetic factors

Actions to Take

By taking these steps, you can prevent the onset of COPD or slow its progress.

  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid irritants (cigarette smoke, air pollution, excessive heat or cold, people with a cold or the flu, dust/fumes, high altitudes, etc.)
  • Regular visits with your physician
  • Have a treatment plan in place
  • Join a Pulmonary Rehab Program

Medications such as bronchodilators (used to open and relax the airways) and corticosteroids (used to reduce swelling in the airways) can help you breathe easier.

COPD Resources

YourLungHealth.org - A website of accumulated information from experts of the American Association for Respiratory Care to help you minimize the problems of living with various lung conditions.

American College of Chest Physicians - A comprehensive website by chest medicine professionals to educate and research the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of chest diseases.

The following PDFs offer further information regarding actions to take when experiencing a variety of COPD signs and symptoms. Sources include the American Lung Association, Coventry Health Care and Krames Online:

My COPD Action Plan
Pursed-Lip Breathing