Palliative care can help you live well with COPD
Living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) can be difficult: shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing can make you avoid doing the things you used to love. But COPD doesn’t have to stop you from enjoying your life. Palliative care can help.
Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness like COPD. It treats the pain, symptoms and stress of your illness, with the goal of improving your quality of life. Palliative care is available at the same time as all your other treatments, providing an added layer of support for you and your family. It is provided by a team of palliative care doctors, nurses and others who work together with your lung specialist and other doctors.
In practice, this means that your lung specialist will help you with the medical treatment of your COPD, while your palliative care team will carefully manage your symptoms and side effects. The team will also help you make sure that your treatments are in line with goals.
Over time, people living with COPD can develop very complex symptoms that include shortness of breath, low oxygen in the blood, cough, pain, and weight loss. They can also experience depression, anxiety, insomnia and loneliness. Palliative care doctors and nurses are experts in complex symptom management and will assess and treat you for all of these symptoms. For example, for shortness of breath – one of the most common symptoms – your palliative care team can teach you breathing and relaxation exercises and advise you on how oxygen may help for low oxygen levels in your blood.
Your palliative care team can also help you choose what kind of treatment you may want in the future. These are difficult decisions to make, but it is important to think them through. If you have severe shortness of breath or lung failure, for example, paramedics and hospitals may intubate you in an emergency. This means you will have a tube in your throat and lungs connected to a machine that will breathe for you. This can provide effective relief for some patients, but if you have advanced disease and your lungs are not going to get better, then it may cause you more suffering. Your palliative care team can help you consider all of your options. They will also help you maintain the best possible quality of life no matter what you choose to do.
If you are living with COPD, ask your doctor for a palliative care referral. Palliative care is appropriate at any age and any stage of a serious illness, but earlier is better. Palliative care is available in most hospitals, in outpatient clinics, and in some areas, for home visits.