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COPD: Learning to Breathe Easier


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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. COPD gets worse over time. You can't undo the damage to your lungs. But you can take steps to breathe easier and feel better.

  • If you have severe COPD, you may find that you take quick, small, shallow breaths.
  • It's important to avoid shortness of breath. Do all you can to make breathing easier. This includes learning ways of breathing that can help the air flow in and out of your lungs.
  • Breath training can help you take deeper breaths and reduce shortness of breath.
  • You must practice breath training regularly to do it well.

Breathing is hard when you have COPD. Breathing with quick, short breaths makes it harder to get air into your lungs.

You can try three basic ways to help your breathing:

  • Pursed-lip breathing helps you breathe more air out so that your next breath can be deeper.
  • Breathing with your diaphragm, or belly breathing, helps your lungs expand so that they take in more air. Your diaphragm is the large muscle that separates your lungs from your belly.
  • Breathing while bending forward at the waist helps the diaphragm move more easily. It helps draw air into your lungs as you breathe.

Test Your Knowledge

Breath training can help you take deeper breaths and can relieve your shortness of breath.

True
False

One of the main symptoms of COPD is shortness of breath that gets worse when you exercise.

As COPD gets worse, you may be short of breath even when you do simple things like get dressed or fix a meal. It gets harder to eat and exercise, and breathing takes much more energy. People often lose weight and get weaker.

Breathing with quick, short breaths makes it harder to get air into your lungs. Learning new ways to control your breathing may help. You may feel better and be able to do more.

You can use these breathing methods to help you get over those times when you feel more short of breath. But you must practice them regularly to do them well.

Test Your Knowledge

Being short of breath:

Can make you feel weaker.
Takes much more energy.
Can make you lose weight.
All of the above.

Use these methods when you are more short of breath than normal. Practice them often so you can do them well.

Pursed-lip breathing

Pursed-lip breathingClick here to see an illustration. helps you breathe more air out so that your next breath can be deeper. It makes you less short of breath and lets you exercise more.

  • Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth while almost closing your lips.
  • Breathe in for about 4 seconds, and breathe out for 6 to 8 seconds.

Breathing with your diaphragm

Breathing with your diaphragmClick here to see an illustration. helps your lungs expand so that they take in more air. Your diaphragm is the large muscle that separates your lungs from your belly.

  • Lie on your back, or prop yourself up on several pillows.
  • Put one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. When you breathe in, push your belly out as far as possible. You should feel the hand on your belly move out, while the hand on your chest does not move.
  • When you breathe out, you should feel the hand on your belly move in. When you can do this type of breathing well while lying down, learn to do it while sitting or standing. Many people with COPD find this breathing method helpful.
  • Practice this breathing method for 20 minutes at a time, 2 or 3 times a day.

Breathing while bending forward at the waist

Breathing while bending forwardClick here to see an illustration. can reduce shortness of breath while you are exercising or resting. You can sit or stand to use this breathing method.

To use this breathing method, bend forward slightly at the waist. Keep your back straight. If you are standing, you may want to rest your hands on the edge of a table or the back of a chair.

Bending forward like this may make it easier for you to breathe. It helps your diaphragm move more easily.

Test Your Knowledge

In order to practice these breathing methods for COPD, you'll need special equipment.

True
False

Now that you have read this information, you'll be better prepared for those times when you feel short of breath.

Talk with your doctor

If you have questions about this information, print it out and take it with you when you visit your doctor. You may want to mark areas or make notes in the margins where you have questions.

If you would like more information on COPD, the following resources are available:

Organizations

American Lung Association
1301 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Suite 800
Washington, DC 20004
Phone: 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872) to speak with a lung professional
(202) 785-3355
Email: info@lung.org
Web Address: www.lungusa.org

The American Lung Association provides programs of education, community service, and advocacy. Some of the topics available include asthma, tobacco control, emphysema, infectious disease, asbestos, carbon monoxide, radon, and ozone.


COPD Foundation
2937 SW 27th Avenue
Suite 302
Miami, FL 33133
Phone: 1-866-316-COPD (1-866-316-2673)
Web Address: www.copdfoundation.org

The COPD Foundation develops and supports programs that improve research, education, early diagnosis, and treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). They provide information to people with COPD, caregivers, and health professionals.


National Jewish Health
1400 Jackson Street
Denver, CO 80206
Phone: 1-800-423-8891
1-800-222-5864 (Lung Line)
Email: lungline@njhealth.org
Web Address: www.nationaljewish.org

National Jewish Health is a hospital devoted to treatment, research, and education in chronic respiratory diseases. It publishes a newsletter and pamphlets; maintains the LUNG LINE, a free call-in information service for consumers; and has a patient referral center (inpatient and outpatient services).


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ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerKen Y. Yoneda, MD - Pulmonology
Last RevisedFebruary 19, 2013

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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