Life with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can be difficult, especially when everyday tasks become a challenge because of breathlessness, persistent coughing and frequent chest infections. Finding that you can no longer carry on your job, care for your grandchildren, or even socialise with friends without experiencing symptoms can lead to people feeling isolated, anxious and depressed. Research from the British Lung Foundation found that over half of people with the condition (56%) said their mental health had deteriorated since receiving a COPD diagnosis.
This World COPD Day is an opportunity to reach out to patients living with the condition to check in on both their mental and physical well-being and offer them the support they need to live well with COPD.
Providing support and information
It is important to ensure from the moment someone presents at their GP practice with symptoms of COPD that they get support for smoking cessation if they smoke. Having a conversation with patients about the effect smoking has on their health and providing them with support to quit is vital even before their diagnosis is confirmed.
Once a patient is diagnosed and given the right medicines, it is critical they use them as instructed. Remind patients that they shouldn't stop taking their regular inhalers, even if they feel well or their symptoms have improved. For people who have never used an inhaler before, they will need to know exactly how to use them. There are good videos online to help at the Asthma UK website (see Useful resources), which you can signpost patients to.
It is essential to provide your patients with a self-management plan to monitor their symptoms, keep an up-to-date list of their medications, emergency contacts, and to tell them what to do if they are having a flare-up. Self-management plans can be downloaded from the British Lung Foundation website or ordered for free from their online shop. There are many useful resources in the online shop that can be ordered in packs of 25 and given to patients with COPD.
As we head into winter, patients with COPD should know that cold weather can be a trigger for their condition and their symptoms could become worse if they get an infection, like flu or a cold. Having a clear flare-up action plan will give them steps to follow if they start to feel worse. Encourage patients to follow the steps in their flare-up plan and to seek medical advice as indicated in their plan. Check whether they are up to date with their COVID-19 and flu vaccinations, and whether they have had their one-off pneumonia jab.
It is important for people with COPD to try to stay physically active as this helps manage the condition. Pulmonary rehabilitation is the best way to learn how to exercise at the right level for the patient. Talk to your patients about the benefits of pulmonary rehab and encourage them to join a course if they can. After the patient has completed their course, encouraging them to stay active and carry on the techniques that they've learned will help keep up the progress. Pulmonary rehabilitation was suspended because of the pandemic, so the British Lung Foundation has some online resources to help people carry on their pulmonary rehabilitation at home (https://www.blf.org.uk/technology-for-lung-health/technology-guide/pulmonary-rehabilitation).
Living well with COPD
Having a chronic lung condition shouldn't stop people from enjoying life, and getting symptoms under control will really help with this. But mental health support may be needed to help patients with feelings of anxiety and depression, which are common, particularly after diagnosis. Staying active and sociable is key to staying well mentally with COPD. Signposting patients to a local group will allow them to meet others going through a similar experience and learn more about their condition. Breathe Easy support groups are for people living with a lung condition and their families. It is a great way to get more information and make new friends.
- Inhaler technique videos: asthma.org.uk/advice/inhaler-videos
- COPD self-management plan: shop.auk-blf.org.uk/collections/new-shop-hcp/products/copd-self-management-plan-hcp
- Breathe Easy Support Group: blf.org.uk/support-for-you/breathe-easy
- Resources for HCPs: shop.auk-blf.org.uk/collections/new-shop-hcp