10 Questions to Ask Your Doctor About COPD

If you've been diagnosed with COPD, you probably have a lot of questions for your doctor about the disease. What causes it? How is it treated? What is your prognosis? The list may seem endless. If you're not quite sure what questions to ask, consider the following list of 10 specific questions (and answers) that you can discuss with your doctor during your next appointment.


What Is COPD?

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When you ask this question, you're likely to learn that COPD is an incurable, yet preventable and treatable lung disease that also affects other systems in your body.

The disease is progressive, meaning that it generally gets worse over time. To date, there are no medications that are proven to increase survival in COPD.

Studies suggest that only smoking cessation, oxygen therapy (used for 15 hours or more a day) and pulmonary rehabilitation can slow COPD's progression.


What Causes COPD?

Although smoking is the number one cause of COPD, your doctor will probably explain to you that there are other risk factors to consider as well. Some of these risk factors are common, while others are not as common.

Being aware of risk factors for the disease can help with earlier diagnosis and prompt treatment since patients who know the risk factors may question their own COPD symptoms before they're diagnosed.


How Can I Have COPD When I've Never Smoked?

Contrary to popular belief, smoking is not the only cause of COPD. Your doctor will confirm that never smokers can also develop the disease. In fact, some studies suggest that nearly 25 percent of those who are diagnosed with COPD have never smoked.


What Is My Prognosis?

Although no one can accurately predict your life expectancy after a COPD diagnosis, the prognosis of the disease depends upon several factors—most importantly, whether or not you still smoke.

If you continue to smoke after your diagnosis, your lung function will decline more rapidly and the disease will progress much faster than if you were to quit completely. Other factors associated with COPD life expectancy are your degree of airway obstruction, your level of dyspnea, your body mass index (BMI), and your exercise tolerance.


Why Should I Quit Smoking If I've Already Got COPD?

You may be wondering why you should quit smoking when you've smoked for decades and the damage to your lungs has already been done.

Medical experts agree, however, that quitting is the first-line treatment for COPD. In fact, some studies suggest that lung function decline after smoking cessation actually normalizes, declining at the same rate as anybody else of the same sex, age, height, ​and weight.


What Are the Results of My Spirometry Test?

Spirometry is a pulmonary function test that is used to diagnose COPD and determine its severity. Ideally, your doctor should thoroughly explain the results to you in a way that you can understand them. Unfortunately, this does not always happen.

There are three values measured in spirometry that are critically important to making a COPD diagnosis: your forced vital capacity (FVC), your forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) and the ratio of your FEV1 to your FVC (FEV1/FVC). Monitoring your results over time helps your doctor determine if your COPD is improving, staying the same, or getting worse.


What Stage Am I In?

According to the Global Initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease, COPD is divided into four stages: mild, moderate, severe, and very severe. Your doctor will use your spirometry results to determine which stage of the condition you're in.

Still, no matter what stage your official diagnosis says, the disease affects everyone differently. How good you feel and how much activity you can tolerate depends upon a number of factors, including whether or not you continue to smoke, how much exercise you do and the type of diet you consume.


Will I Have to Be on Oxygen?

Not everyone with COPD needs supplemental oxygen. Your doctor will measure the amount of oxygen in your blood by taking blood from an artery in your wrist and sending it to the lab for analysis, or by using a device called a pulse oximeter.

The general goal of COPD treatment is to keep your oxygen saturation level above 88 percent. If it consistently drops below this, your doctor may recommend that you begin oxygen therapy.


How Can I Prevent My Disease From Worsening?

Ask your doctor what you can do to keep your disease from worsening. As we talked about earlier, smoking cessation is the number one priority if you smoke. But, quitting smoking is only the first step. Incorporating other important lifestyle changes is also essential.


Will Surgery Help Me Live Longer and Feel Better?

Surgical intervention is an option for a small group of patients who meet very specific criteria.

There are three types of lung surgery your doctor may discuss with you once your symptoms are severe enough and you've reached the most advanced stages of the disease: bullectomy, lung volume reduction surgery, and lung transplant.

Having a lung transplant may improve your quality of life and allow you to perform more activities, but lung transplant has not yet been proven to increase long-term survival (five years or longer) in COPD. In contrast, short-term survival rates for COPD patients who undergo lung transplants are in the range of 80 percent to 90 percent and continue to improve.

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Article Sources

  • Aziz F et al. Lung transplant in end-staged chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients: a concise review. Journal of Thoracic Disease. Vol. 2, No. 2 (June 2010).