Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Palliative Care

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a condition in which the airways in the lungs become damaged, making it difficult for air to flow in and out. Symptoms of the disease include shortness of breath, low oxygen in the blood, cough, pain, weight loss and risk of lung infections. Patients may also suffer from emotional effects such as depression, anxiety, insomnia and social isolation.

A pulmonologist (lung specialist) will help you with the medical treatment of your COPD, but the symptoms that accompany the disease require careful management. Managing these symptoms, along with the pain and stress of having the disease, can be very difficult. This is why palliative medicine, or palliative care, can be an important part of your treatment.

COPD Symptoms and Treatment— How Palliative Care Can Help

Palliative care is a specialty in medicine focused on treating the symptoms, pain and stress that accompany serious illnesses like COPD. It is available to you from the moment you are diagnosed and through the entire course of your illness. The goal of palliative care is to help you, and your family, achieve the highest quality of life.

Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses and social workers who specialize in palliative care. The team gives you and your family an added layer of support.

The palliative care team works in partnership with your pulmonologist and other medical specialists involved in your care to make sure that you and everyone else are “on the same page.” Navigating the health care system is often a challenge, but palliative care teams are experts at care coordination and keeping you and your family fully informed.

Palliative care teams help deal with symptoms of shortness of breath by using medications such as low-dose morphine, which can reduce the feeling of breathlessness. They can treat anxiety and depression with medications as well as talk therapy, massage and relaxation techniques. Having a chronic illness like COPD requires lifestyle changes. Palliative care specialists can help educate you on how to stay as healthy as possible during the course of the disease.

Palliative care teams are there to start and ease discussions between you and your family about your goals and what type of care is best for you. Whatever treatment decisions you make, the team helps you through the entire course of your illness.

How to Get Palliative Care

If you or a loved one needs palliative care, ask your doctor for a referral.

Finding a hospital with a palliative care team in your area is easy. Just go to GetPalliativeCare.org/providers for a state-by-state list. To find out if palliative care is right for you, take our quiz.

To learn more about living with COPD and to access information for patients with COPD and their caregivers, visit the American Lung Association at lung.org.