Heart & Lung Health

Treatments for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (or COPD) stands for a group of progressive lung disorders that hamper lung airflow. The disorder also includes chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and non-reversible asthma. As per the World Health Organization, there were 251 million cases of prevalent COPD globally in 2016 and 2015, around 5% of deaths globally were caused due to this condition.

COPD is not curable, but there are a number of COPD treatments that can help improve quality of life and relieve symptoms:

1. Medications

A variety of medications are used as COPD treatments. However, there are no perfect COPD medications as each person is different and the medications depend on the symptoms and severity of the condition. It is recommended to consult first with a doctor who would work with you to figure out the best medication plan to address your symptoms. Taking the right medication helps improve breathing and reduces COPD flare-ups.

2. Lung therapies

In some cases, doctors prescribe additional therapies for people with severe or moderate COPD. Two of the most common therapies are:

  • Oxygen therapy: Supplemental oxygen is required when there isn’t enough oxygen in the blood. With several devices delivering oxygen to the lungs, oxygen therapy is a possible treatment option helping provide oxygen for carrying out various activities. There are portable, lightweight units available, which you can take around with you to run errands. Oxygen therapy is a popular treatment option for COPD and is known to improve the quality of life and helps in extending life. While some people with COPD may use the oxygen unit only during sleeping or other activities, others use it all the time.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation program: A combination of exercise training, nutritional advice, education and counseling, the pulmonary rehabilitation program lets the patient work with a variety of specialists to work out a customized program as per the specific needs. The program help increases the patient’s participation in daily activities, reduce hospitalizations, and improve the quality of life. It is recommended to talk to the doctor to ask for a referral to a pulmonary rehabilitation program.

3. Surgery

Some people with severe COPD symptoms may find it difficult to breathe normally. In such cases, the doctor may recommend a lung surgery. However, not every patient with the condition may be strong enough to have surgery. Some of the considerations needed for surgery in COPD patients are:

  • The patient must have quit smoking
  • He or she must be strong enough to undergo a lung surgery
  • The patient must participate in a pulmonary rehabilitation program

Two types of lung surgeries performed to treat COPD are:

  • Lung Volume Reduction Surgery (LVRS): This surgical procedure helps treat severe emphysema, which affects the lobes of the upper lung. LVRS does not cure the condition, but may improve the quality of life. The surgery removes around 30% of the most diseased lung tissues and reduces the size of the lung, thereby allowing the other healthy part of the lung to perform better.
  • Bullectomy: This procedure removes the very large blebs or bullae from the lungs. Bullae are large air sacs formed from many destroyed alveoli and these become larger, thereby crowding the space in the lungs and interfering with breathing. For those who are having trouble breathing due to the enlargement of bullae, removal of the destroyed air sacs helps in improving breathing.