What's the treatment for hronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)?
The goals of COPD treatment are to prevent further deterioration in lung function, to alleviate symptoms, and to improve performance of daily activities and quality of life. The precise nature of the patient's condition will determine the type of treatment prescribed for COPD. With a program of complete respiratory care, disability can be minimized, acute episodes
prevented, hospitalizations reduced, and some early deaths avoided. On the other hand, no treatment has been shown to slow the progress of the disease, and only oxygen therapy increases survival rate.
Survival rates depend upon the amount of damage to the lungs, and the only way to increase the patient's rate of survival is with oxygen therapy. It is also important to remove the irritation that is causing the damage. That means avoiding irritants such as cigarette smoke and polluted air.
Commonly used medications include bronchodilators, which relax the bronchial muscles so the airways are widened and it's easier to breathe. This drug is available in inhaled, injected, and oral forms. These agents open narrowed airways and offer significant symptomatic relief for many, but not all, people with COPD. There are three types of bronchodilators: Beta2 agonists, anticholinergic agents, and theophylline and its derivatives. Depending on the specific drug, a bronchodilator may be inhaled, injected, or taken orally. The doctor may also prescribe antibiotics if chronic bronchitis is accompanied by a bacterial infection. Steroids called corticosteroids also can help relax the airways so breathing is easier in patients with chronic bronchitis. However, these types of drugs usually aren't prescribed for long-term use because of their side effects. Drinking plenty of fluids can help prevent thick mucus, as well as taking a drug to help reduce secretions. In severe cases, patients need to breathe oxygen from a portable cylinder 24 hours a day to keep the blood oxygen at normal levels. Yearly flu vaccinations and a one-time pneumonia vaccine are recommended to prevent pulmonary infections for all patients with COPD. Antibiotics are given at the first sign of any infection. Patients showing signs of heart failure are given diuretics to prevent fluid retention. In cases of early-onset emphysema, patients receive augmentation therapy in which replacement alpha-1-antitrypsin protein is injected every one to two weeks for life.
Some patients with COPD benefit from an outpatient pulmonary rehabilitation program in which trained healthcare professionals instruct the patient in exercise, breathing, and relaxation techniques, and provide respiratory therapy, such as oxygen, mechanical ventilation, continuous positive airway pressure, and removal of secretions. While surgery is rarely used, available surgical techniques include lung transplants and removal of diseased lung tissue, called lung volume reduction. Alternative treatments include diet and nutritional supplements; herbal medicines; water, or hydrotherapy; acupressure and acupuncture; aromatherapy; and yoga. Consult your doctor before using any alternative therapies.