What to Ask: COPD

The basic function of the lungs is to take oxygen out of the air we breathe in exchange for the carbon dioxide dissolved in the blood. This exchange takes place across a very thin membrane that separates the blood in the lungs from the air we inhale. As we age, the lungs become stiffer and less elastic, the airways shrink, and the chest muscles weaken. These and other changes cause the total flow of air into and out of the lungs to decrease.  

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a long-term illness in which breathing becomes more and more of a challenge.

The following are questions you can ask your healthcare professional about COPD and other breathing problems:

  1. What effect does normal aging have on breathing?
  2. I am getting more breathless than I used to. Is that just part of growing older?
  3. What are the most common respiratory diseases as we grow older?
  4. What does “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease” (COPD) mean?
  5. Why does it matter if I have COPD?
  6. Can COPD be treated?
  7. I’m not aware of increased breathlessness, but I feel tired all the time, and don’t want to do anything. Could this be caused by COPD?
  8. Since my doctor told me I have COPD I have felt really down. Can I get help for this?
  9. What are “lung function tests”? How will they help my respiratory problems?
  10. I have been told I must stop smoking. Can you help me quit?
  11. Are there treatments for my lung disease?
  12. I am using an inhaler, but it doesn’t seem to help me. Why is this?
  13. My doctor says I should use a “spacer” with my inhaler. What is this and why would it make my inhaler more effective?
  14. I have heard of pulmonary rehabilitation programs. Would one of these help me?
  15. Would exercise help my shortness of breath?
  16. What is the best kind of exercise for me?
  17. When I try to exercise it brings on coughing. What can I do about this?
  18. I have a cough most of the time these days. What causes this?
  19. I have a lot of heartburn. Could this be causing my cough?
  20. When I go out in cold weather I have coughing spasms. Why is this? How can this be helped?
  21. Can medications cause or make coughing worse?
  22. What is aspiration?  What causes it?
  23. Can aspiration be prevented and can it be treated?
  24. What is a pulmonary embolism?
  25. Are pulmonary embolisms common in older adults?
  26. What causes a pulmonary embolism?
  27. After my mother had a hip fracture she developed a pulmonary embolism. Why did it happen? Will it happen to me if I break my hip?
  28. How is pulmonary embolism detected?
  29. What is the best way to prevent pulmonary embolism from happening?
  30. How is pulmonary embolism treated?
  31. I have heard of a “filter” being placed in a blood vessel to prevent pulmonary embolism. Can you explain this to me?