Friday, March 25, 2016

Living With the Disease: COPD

Over the past few years, I feel that I’ve had more and more patients with COPD. It may be because I’ve changed from more of a long term setting to a short-term rehab, but either way, I’m still amazed by how little people actually understand about the disease, the patients especially.

COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and its main cause is smoking. Obviously, smoking isn’t the only reason, it could be caused by air pollution, or infections, but the majority of patients are previous or current smokers. Because I’m a nurse, it’s important for me to educate my patient on how to take care of themselves. Unfortunately, for COPD, a lot of it is very counterintuitive. When someone’s dealing with symptoms of COPD, they feel like they can’t breathe. 

For anyone else, it would be obvious. Increase the oxygen levels, give them more oxygen so they can breathe easier.

For COPD patients, that can harm, rather than help.

Even knowing that, and with increased education, it’s hard to understand, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve found oxygen levels increased because patients or their families believe it will help them breathe. The problem with COPD isn’t that they aren’t taking in oxygen, it’s that they aren’t converting it to carbon dioxide. Their body doesn’t know what to do with so much oxygen, and it thinks that it has more than it needs, which means it doesn’t need to breathe as much.

It’s hard when there’s a disease that works against sense. Well-meaning family members and friends often try and increase the oxygen to help them breathe, and often patients themselves listen to their body, begging for more oxygen. But it’s not a lack that they have, it’s the inability to convert oxygen to carbon dioxide.