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Question : I was recently admitted to the hospital with bronchitis. The doctor said I have COPD. I am only 54. How can I prevent it from getting worse?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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July 18, 2013
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COPD is short for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. More than 80% of people with COPD are current or former smokers.

The main features of COPD are:

  • Less flow of air into and out of the lungs
  • Permanent damage to the lungs and bronchial tubes
  • Symptoms that usually get worse over time

It sounds like you had a COPD flare-up. Doctors call them COPD exacerbations. Typical symptoms of a flare-up include:

  • More coughing
  • Change in the color of coughed-up mucus
  • Increased shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Wheezing

You want to avoid flare-ups. Compared with COPD patients who have few or no flare-ups, those with frequent flare-ups:

  • Lose lung function at a faster rate
  • Score lower on quality-of-life measures
  • Die sooner

If you smoke, you must quit now. Quitting smoking is the only chance you have to prevent the disease from getting worse.

Drugs for COPD cannot slow down the eventual decline in lung function. However, they can allow you to breathe a little easier, with less coughing. They also help prevent COPD flare-ups.

Commonly used drugs for COPD help in different ways:

  • Corticosteroid inhalers reduce inflammation.
  • Beta-agonist inhalers improve air flow by relaxing the airways. Some inhalers combine a long-acting beta-agonist with a corticosteroid. These include Advair and Symbicort.
  • Anticholinergic inhalers also improve air flow. They have a different way of relaxing bronchial tubes. One of the most popular inhaled drugs used to treat COPD is tiotropium (Spiriva).

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