6 Signs of Hope for COPD: New Treatments for Seniors Suffering From COPD

Happy old man having a casual talk with a doctor
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Living with COPD is tough, because the condition, which causes shortness of breath and decreases the capacity of the lungs to absorb oxygen, is so debilitating. People with COPD struggle simply to breathe, which often severely curtails their ability to exercise or even to get around.

Meanwhile the number of people in the U.S. suffering with COPD continues to rise at a rapid rate. More than 12 million Americans have currently been diagnosed with COPD, and experts from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute estimate that an additional 12 million people have the disease but don't know it yet, doubling the national total. Clearly, new treatments -- and a potential cure -- are much needed. Here, the latest treatment options for COPD and those soon to become available.

The treatment: Inhalers

What's new: Triple therapy

Asthma-style inhalers are standard treatment for COPD, but researchers are studying new combinations that make them much more effective. So many different studies have come out in the past couple of years that there's no agreed-upon strategy.

However, many experts now believe that patients do best on "triple therapy," taking three different medications: a long-acting beta-agonist, an inhaled corticosteroid, and the anticholinergic Spiriva (generic name tiotropium bromide). A study conducted at Hannover Medical School in Germany found that when patients took all three medications, their severe episodes of breathing difficulty, known as "exacerbations," dropped by 62 percent. They also had fewer emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

Why it's encouraging: Every patient is different, and treatment depends on how many exacerbations a person with COPD is experiencing, says Byron Thomashow, chairman of the board of the COPD Foundation. But since all three medications treat different aspects of the disease, many people do best taking all of them. Anticholinergics like Spiriva work by relaxing the smooth muscles, preventing airway spasms. Long-acting beta-agonists also relax the muscles and increase airway flow. Inhaled corticosteroids (brand names Qvar, Asmanex, Flovent, and Pulmicort) reduce inflammation in the airways.

What to watch for: Inhalants containing corticosteroids have to be used with care because they can cause a yeast infection called thrush in the back of the throat. Inhaled corticosteroids have been shown to increase the risk of pneumonia, so patients taking them need to be on the alert if they get the flu.

The treatment: Medications to dilate blood vessels

What's new: Lowering pulmonary blood pressure

Pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure in the arteries leading to the lungs, is a common complication of COPD. It's the primary cause of the edema, or swelling in the feet and ankles, that so many COPD sufferers experience. When this occurs, doctors may prescribe a drug that works by dilating the pulmonary arteries, reducing the pressure of the blood pumping through.

Calcium channel blockers are one type of drug doctors may prescribe to lower pulmonary blood pressure. Others include Flolan (generic name epoprostenol), which is given by injection or infusion pump, and Tracleer (bosentan), which must be carefully monitored due to potential liver problems.

Why it's encouraging: When blood flow to the lungs is restricted, the result is lack of oxygen, known as hypoxemia. Medications that relax blood vessels allow the much-needed oxygen to get through, and they can also prevent dangerous blood clots.

What's coming: Viagra, the popular drug for erectile dysfunction, is now being used to treat pulmonary hypertension. New research shows that sildenafil (the generic name for Viagra), a vasodilator, works to relax and open the blood vessels leading to the lungs just as it does to the penis. By making it easier for the heart to pump blood to the lungs, sildenafil lowers blood pressure in the lungs, relieving pulmonary hypertension. The FDA has approved a new formulation of sildenafil called Revatio that's specifically for pulmonary hypertension. Studies are ongoing to determine the extent to which sildenafil reduces shortness of breath and gives patients an improved capacity for exercise. If studies are encouraging, sildenafil may come into wider use among COPD patients.

The treatment: Oxygen therapy

What's new: Replacing oxygen with a mix of helium and oxygen

Standard oxygen therapy benefits patients with advanced COPD by boosting the ability of the lungs to supply oxygen to the blood. Now new research suggests that a better version of this treatment will soon be available. Canadian researchers at the University of Calgary determined that when 60 percent helium was combined with 40 percent oxygen -- making a mixture known as Heliox -- COPD patients were able to increase their exercise capacity by an average of 245 percent. Because helium is less dense than oxygen, it allows COPD sufferers to empty their damaged lungs more completely.

Why it's encouraging: The treatment is already in use by Canada's health services in the province of Alberta as a pilot project, and experts think it will become more widespread. Heliox is also already used in many emergency rooms as a treatment for acute asthma, so hospitals have the treatment available.

What to watch for: Helium is much more expensive than plain oxygen, so it might not be covered by insurance. And while many hospitals have it available onsite, it hasn't been marketed as a home treatment due to cost and the fact that specialized equipment is required for delivery.

The treatment: Lung surgery

What's new: Lung Volume Reduction Surgery

Currently, in advanced cases of COPD, some doctors recommend a type of surgery known as LVRS, which stands for Lung Volume Reduction Surgery. What LVRS does is remove 20 to 30 percent of the most severely damaged lung tissue in hopes that the remaining sections will function better. The treatment is relatively new, so doctors don't know how long the effects will last.

Why it's encouraging: Studies show that in cases where the surgery works, patients' breathing is much improved.

What to watch for: Current open-chest surgery is both highly invasive and dangerous, with a mortality risk of around 5 percent. There are other complications as well, such as pneumonia or the creation of an air leak from the lung.

What's coming: Some surgeons -- instead of opening the chest -- are experimenting with video-assisted thoracic surgery, using a series of tiny cuts to remove small sections of lung tissue. If this method proves successful, expect it to become a mainstream treatment.

The treatment: Airway bypass

What's new: Bronchoscopic surgery

When COPD damages and weakens the walls of the air sacs in the lungs, the result is that the small airways in between collapse when patients exhale. Air then becomes trapped in the lungs, which don't fully empty and, over time, become overexpanded.

To fix this, researchers are experimenting with using a bronchoscope-guided needle to create tiny holes through the airway walls. Miniature tubes called stents are then inserted to connect the smaller, collapsed airways with the healthier, bigger airways.

Why it's encouraging: In a small study, those who underwent the procedure found that their breathing eased considerably. A large-scale double-blind placebo-controlled study called EASE (short for Exhale Airway Stents for Emphysema) is underway at numerous medical centers to make sure that the treatment works and that side effects such as scarring aren't a serious problem.

What to watch for: In the preliminary study, two participants had minor bleeding from the procedure, but there were no major side effects reported.

The treatment: A new anti-inflammatory drug

What's new: Roflumilast

In June of 2010, a new medication, roflumilast (brand name Daxas) was approved in Europe for COPD. Doctors and patients are excited because it's the first time in ten years that a medication with a new type of action has been approved to treat COPD. Daxas works by counteracting the effect of an enzyme that contributes to inflammation -- so it targets the underlying inflammatory mechanism of COPD rather than the symptoms of inflammation.

Clinical trials showed roflumilast to be effective but to have side effects, such as nausea, diarrhea, and headache. Because of these side effects, the FDA refused to approve Daxas in the U.S., and patient advocates say the approval process is stalled.

Why it's encouraging: In Canada, Daxas is well on its way to approval. The four major clinical trials of Daxas included Canadian populations, and the research centers studying the drug at McMaster and other Canadian universities are enthusiastic. Nycomed, which makes the drug, is working with Merck to ramp up major production and promotion of Daxas in both Europe and Canada; insiders expect Canadian approval this winter. That might spur the FDA to speed up the approval process here in the U.S.

What to watch for: While it may be tempting to import Daxas from Canada, and Canadian drug sites are already listing it, this is a risky thing to do as there have been numerous reports of counterfeit drugs passed off as the real thing.

Melanie Haiken

Melanie Haiken discovered how important it is to provide accurate, targeted, usable health information to people facing difficult decisions when she was health editor of Parenting magazine. See full bio

3 days, said...

I am a 72 year- old male, diagnosed with COPD 6 years ago. Four years ago I suffered 3 serious exacerbations that required hospitalizations. Since then I have attended Pulmonary re-hab sessions, and am on a drug regimen of Spireva and Breo. I use an albuterol inhaler for urgent short-term relief. After my Dr changed me from Advair to Breo, my symptoms improved greatly. I exercise at least 2 hours a day, walk at least 1 mile daily. I live at the beach, but the high heat and humidity have not had negative effects. I am always interested in new treatments as they become available. I measure my Oxygen, pulse, blood pressure, and use my peak flow meter every morning and record the results on my daily calendar. I can therefore see changes sometimes even before my body tells me we are regressing, so I can alter my meds or exercise routine before it becomes a problem. I have not had an exacerbation now in over 3 years. My oxygen and exhale factors remain almost unchanged, and my disease does not appear to be progressing. If there are new treatments I can investigate, please let me know. I would love to return to some of the more energetic exercises I enjoyed all my life: skiing and tennis in particular.

5 months, said...

I am seeking to find Partial Cryo Trials in USA. Thank you

8 months, said...

Having COPD is kinda like having an asthma attack all the time. I was diagnosed in 2015 and even though there isn’t a cure yet there are several things I did to control my disease from getting worse. Due to a breakdown of my lung tissue, my airways narrowed and my body has trouble drawing in enough air each time you breathe in. It's also common that due to the narrowing airways people have trouble fully expelling the air in their lungs, which effectively decreases the volume of your lungs and thus limits the amount of oxygen you can process in a given time period. It's a pretty crappy disease that quickly weakened my immune system causing bouts of bronchitis and I ended up having to be hospitalized for five and six times before I finally gave up on traditional western medicine and tried lung stem cell therapy at the regeneration center in Thailand. Its been about 8 months now and Im slowly getting my strength back but its a long battle so I just try to do by breathing exercises daily and leave the rest up to god!

9 months, said...

What if you can not take the medication that a person has to take or cannot take stedroid for COPD

12 months, said...

I will start by saying to all that have COPD or Emphysema should please stop here and read up my story, So as you will know how to get your CURE. I had Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) for 15 years, My first symptoms were dry cough, chest tightness and shortness of breath. My first chest x-ray only showed bronchitis. Finally I went to a pulmonologist and was diagnosed with COPD, Am writing this article to appreciate the good work of General Herbal Center, that helped me get read of myCOPD/Emphysema that i have had for about 17years now, with no cure. After seeing a post of a Zom Sanchez from US on the Internet testifying of how she was cured by Native Herbal Clinic prescribed remedies . I also decided to contact then for a cure and i purchased the medicine , because all i wanted was for me to get totally cure and to be free of it all my life. i Am happy today that they helped me and the remedies worked and i can proudly say that i am free from COPD and i am cured completely its not worst thing to have COPD/EMPHYSEMA as a begin,you can reach Native Herbal Clinic:(nativeherbalclinic@gmail.com) Website for more info: Www.nativeherbalclinic.webs.com

about 1 year, said...

Can Stem Cell Treatment Help COPD?

about 1 year, said...

How do you know if your Asthma or emphysema COPD ?

over 1 year, said...

Caring.com has several online support group for you to participate in. You will find the COPD support group here: https://www.caring.com/support-groups/copd. I hope you find this helpful

over 1 year, said...

is there a copd group available to talk to?

over 1 year, said...

How do I obtain roflumilast from Canada?

over 1 year, said...

I was diagnose of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) 2 years ago, my family doctor told me there is no cure but it can only be controled. Ever since then i have been running heather scepter looking for a solution to my problem because i was going to lose my Job if i dont get better, until i ran into this online testimony of Mrs Vivian who have been cured of COPD by this herbal centre in Nigeria (Traditional Herbal Healing Centre), i immediately contacted them via their email, to God be thy glory i bought this COPD herbal remedy and was cured within 2 weeks of usage, at last this is a break through for all COPD patients contact this herbal centre via their email: traditionalherbalhealingcentre@gmail.com or Call/WhatsApp at +2348110857969

over 1 year, said...

i enjoyed the info about new treatments and would like any new info thanks

almost 2 years, said...

I have COPD. I was first diagnosed in 1997 and quit smoking. At first, I couldn't I tell had any breathing problem, but as the years past, it worsened and now I am so short of breathe that I can only walk short distances. I was very active , worked out, and played golf. I still play golf but with the help of ellipta anoro and canned enriched oxygen. I am interested in the stem cell treatment and would like to hear about that.

almost 2 years, said...

Does anyone know anything about this Omorukunwa Health Center? Would this Steve give us further info and what about the tech staff here, do they know anything about it? Thanks!

over 2 years, said...

Gene therapy should be considered too.

over 2 years, said...

HELLO How can I explain this to the world that there is a man who can cure COPD, I was diagnosed for the past 3years I have being into COPD drug since then,so I decide to look for help in the internet then I found this woman post write about this great man Dr successful, telling people about him that this man have cured to COPD I don’t believe that because all I have in mind is COPD had no cure, thank god for my life today am COPD negative through the power of Dr successful, I contacted this man for help because who write about him drop an email of the man I pick the email and emailed him for the cure this man told me what to do about the cure well am from Australia this man cast a curing spell on me and he told me that he will call me after the cure is done truly he did I was cured for 24hurs spell what a wonderful man this Dr successful, if you need his cured just email him now on drsuccessfulcuringhome@gmail.com thank you DR i will never stop shearing you testimony

almost 3 years, said...

I have been in end stage c.o.p.d. since 2006 and am very excited about these trial and treatments. Does anyone know where I can inquire further?

about 3 years, said...

What about Daliresp

about 3 years, said...

I have asthma, COPD, and lost 40% use of my lungs. Lung and brochol infections have been a big problem along with allergies to many medications.

over 3 years, said...

Availability by state of these treatments.

over 3 years, said...

Why don't the pulmonary drs. ever mention any of the newer medicines or surgeries?

over 3 years, said...

I see ZERO mention of alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency. This is what I have and I am sure my dad - who was diagnosed COPD and died from it - had, as it is hereditary. Replacement therapy does exist. I wonder how many suffer from COPD that is a result of this condition...

over 3 years, said...

only copd and not needed assisted liviing

over 3 years, said...

I do have C.O.P.D and yes all the syntoms are present, however, my ADVAIR, 2 puff a day and COMBIVENT 4 puff a day, + i pill a day of SINGULAIR, HELP to keep me going, as well having severe sleep apnea, that air pressure at night is helpful to open the airway ! BUT over time had noticed if helped the fact of aging and have ths medial condition as others, sure increase the shortness of breath, lately chest pain and very tired, seems like my battery run out now days often, tired at all times.

over 3 years, said...

was prescribed Spiriva but $300 co-pay so I just struggle to breathe.

over 3 years, said...

I have been treating my COPD with theophylline for 30 years and it is by far the best treatment I have ever done. A lot of talk about side effects, but I have had none and it is the cheapest treatment ever.

over 3 years, said...

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