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COPD Stage 1

What You Need to Know About Stage I COPD

By , Caring.com senior editor
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Senior couple enjoying a cycle ride together

See below:

  • How to take care of yourself

  • How to build your family-and-friends support system

How to help the person in your care

In Stage I COPD -- defined by having forced expiratory volume greater than 80 percent, as measured by a test called spirometry or FEV1-- symptoms are mild but can be debilitating in ways that the person you're caring for may not notice. At this stage most people may not even realize their lungs aren't functioning at full capacity, and they're grappling to understand what that means. Here's what to expect:

Physical activity decreases, yet the need to exercise actually increases. You may already be noticing the COPD "vicious cycle": Because exertion can bring on shortness of breath, COPD sufferers resist physical activity. But they need to increase their level of physical activity despite the discomfort. Over time, negotiating this balance will be one of the big challenges you'll face as a COPD caregiver.

Action steps

  • Explain that engaging in physical activity is the best way to strengthen respiratory muscles, which helps prevent COPD from progressing and improves overall strength and endurance.

  • Help him or her find a class or group to participate in so exercise is regularly scheduled.

  • Set up a "buddy" program to help your loved one stay motivated, or plan exercise you can do together.

  • Purchase some free weights to keep at home so the person you're caring for can do simple exercises while watching TV or listening to music.

Expect episodes of shortness of breath. Your loved one may notice shortness of breath during exercise, or during any activity that boosts heart rate, such as hurrying for a bus or carrying a heavy object.

Action steps

  • Don't panic. Suddenly not being able to draw a deep breath can be frightening, but unfortunately panicking just makes symptoms worse. Stay calm and try to encourage your loved one to slow breathing to a steady rhythm.

  • If you haven't already, get a referral to a pulmonologist or COPD specialist. There's a great deal of misinformation about COPD, and some doctors don't treat early COPD as aggressively as experts now recommend.

  • Make sure the person you're caring for has a good supply of inhalers, if one has been prescribed.

  • If the doctor hasn't yet prescribed inhalers, discuss this issue as soon as possible, since many experts now believe that inhalers are beneficial in the treatment of early COPD.

  • Make sure your loved one has been referred for pulmonary rehabilitation, a comprehensive program of breathing retraining and medical management. If not, get the referral.

Fatigue increases. When breathing isn't easy, every activity becomes more tiring. Your loved one may experience fatigue after exertion and, gradually, more and more with everyday activities.

Action steps

  • Be the "exercise police" -- make sure your loved one is exercising regularly, even if he or she doesn't want to. Studies show that COPD patients who exercise regularly report less fatigue and better quality of life than those who don't.

  • Make good sleep a priority. If sleep is a problem, discuss the issue with his or her doctor. There are techniques that work to help COPD patients sleep better with fewer interruptions.

  • Enroll in a pulmonary rehabilitation program. Pulmonary rehabilitation, a structured program of exercises to strengthen the breathing muscles, is one of the most effective ways to stay healthy with COPD. Pulmonary rehab can help COPD patients maintain and even improve physical fitness and conserve energy.