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COPD Stage 2

What You Need to Know About Stage II COPD

By , Caring.com senior editor
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In Stage II COPD -- defined by having forced expiratory volume between 50 and 80 percent of normal, as measured by a test called spirometry or lung function testing -- symptoms such as shortness of breath and coughing are often more noticeable. The person you're caring for may have additional signs, such as a bluish tint to the lips or skin from low oxygen levels in the blood. 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, which is scary and uncomfortable, COPD sufferers resist physical activity. But they need to increase their level of physical activity despite the discomfort. In Stage II COPD, while COPD sufferers still have fairly good lung capacity, it's important to think of the lungs in the same way we think of muscles. If the COPD patient doesn't use them and push their capacity, they atrophy and lose strength. Over time, helping your loved one find ways to exercise that aren't too uncomfortable will be one of the big challenges you face as a COPD caregiver.

Action steps

  • Explain that engaging in physical activity is the best way to strengthen respiratory muscles to prevent COPD from progressing and improve 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.

Be the enforcer when it comes to smoking. The single most important thing someone with COPD can do to prevent the disease from worsening quickly is to quit smoking. You can play an important role in motivating your loved one to quit.

Action steps

  • Talk about it in a supportive manner. Suggest a quit-smoking class or support group. Let your loved one know that you realize what a big step this is, and that you're going to get him or her any needed support .

  • Stock up on stop-smoking aids. Work with his or her doctor to get the most effective nicotine substitution products to make quitting easier.

  • Enlist a coach or hypnotherapist. Many therapists use counseling and hypnosis to help smokers motivate themselves to quit and to cope with cravings. If your loved one is interested in getting this kind of support, help him or her find the right person to work with, someone he or she feels comfortable with.

Help your loved one learn to cope with shortness of breath. He or she 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

  • Set realistic expectations. Not being able to draw a deep breath is scary, but panicking just makes symptoms worse. Encourage your loved one to stay calm and to try 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 Stage II COPD as aggressively as experts now recommend.

"¢ 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 Stage II COPD.

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.