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Caregivers Information - COPD Treatment Options

Drug and inhaler treatments

There are a number of treatment options that may ease the symptoms of COPD

Medications that are prescribed for people with COPD may include:
  • Short-acting beta2-agonists, such as albuterol;   anticholinergic bronchodilators, such as ipratropium bromide;  and theophylline derivatives. All of these help to open narrowed airways.
  • Long-acting bronchodilators. These help relieve constriction of the airways and help to prevent bronchospasm associated with COPD.
  • Antibiotics, which are often given at the first sign of a respiratory infection to prevent further damage and infection in diseased lungs
  • Expectorants, which help loosen and expel mucus secretions from the airways, and may help make breathing easier

In addition, other medications may be prescribed to manage conditions associated with COPD. These may include:
  • Diuretics, which are given as therapy to avoid excess water retention associated with right-heart failure, which may occur in some COPD patients.
  • Digitalis (usually in the form of digoxin), which strengthens the force of the heartbeat. It is used with caution in COPD patients, especially if their blood oxygen tensions are low, since they become vulnerable to arrhythmia when taking this drug.
  • Painkillers, cough suppressants and sleeping pills, which should be used only with caution, because they depress breathing to some extent
You should strictly follow your healthcare professionalís orders regarding all prescribed medications for COPD. Be sure to talk to your healthcare professional if you have any problems, questions or concerns about medications.
Home oxygen therapy
Eventually, many people with COPD will need supplemental oxygen. In fact, home oxygen therapy can improve survival rates in people who have low blood oxygen levels. There are various forms and levels of oxygen therapy and your healthcare professional can decide what is best.

Oxygen therapy can actually improve quality of life for some people with COPD because it may help make physical activity more comfortable and enjoyable. This treatment can also lessen sleeplessness, headaches, irritability and the overproduction of red blood cells.

Depending on the severity of someoneís COPD, a healthcare professional may recommend continuous oxygen treatment or occasional oxygen treatment. Patients who require continuous oxygen therapy inhale supplemental oxygen around the clock. This can improve alertness, motor speed and hand strength in people who have advanced emphysema. Patients who require occasional oxygen treatment use supplemental oxygen during certain activities or just at night.

There are various oxygen sources available for home use, as well as different portable oxygen sources. They vary in size, portability, function and price. Your healthcare professional can help you decide which type of oxygen system works best for your circumstance.
Surgical treatments
Currently, surgical treatments for COPD are investigative, meaning they are not proven to be effective across the board. Having this type of surgery is also very expensive, and often not covered by insurance. For the most part, surgery is not considered beneficial for most COPD patients.

Despite all this, some people do have very positive responses to surgery. And it is important to know that surgery is an option in some cases. New research and studies often become available. So, ask your healthcare professional about the latest developments in surgery treatments for COPD.

Lung transplantation
There have been successful lung transplants in people who have end-stage COPD. After a successful lung transplant, a person has a 70 percent chance of surviving for 1 year post surgery. The best candidates for this surgery are people under 65 who have good general health, aside from COPD.

Lung volume reduction surgery
Lung volume reduction is an experimental surgery that involves removing severely diseased lung tissue. 

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Last modified: June 17, 2002