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Respiratory Care

Living with COPD | Central Oregon

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a term used to cover a group of respiratory illnesses, most often emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Roughly 24 million Americans live with COPD, a condition marked by increasing shortness of breath due to damage to the small airways, as well as changes to lung tissue where oxygen enters the circulation.

In Central Oregon, St. Charles Health System is recognized for its expert work in diagnosing and treating COPD patients whose symptoms may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Frequent coughing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Wheezing
  • Excess mucus
  • Fatigue
  • Bluish color to the fingernails and lips

Smoking is the most common cause of COPD, but it can also be caused by long-term exposure to second-hand smoke, dust and chemicals. People with a disease called alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency can also develop COPD.

Diagnosing COPD at St. Charles Health System

Pulmonary specialists at St. Charles Health System diagnose COPD by measuring how much air you can breathe in and out, how fast you can breathe air out and how well your lungs deliver oxygen to your blood. The most common COPD tests include:

  • Spirometry, a painless test in which you blow as hard as you can into a tube connected to small machine called a spirometer that measures how much air you breathe out and how fast you can do it.
  • Chest X-ray or chest CT scans create pictures of your heart, lungs and blood vessels that allow St. Charles experts to detect damage.
  • The arterial blood gas test measures the oxygen level in your blood using a blood sample taken from an artery.

Treating COPD at St. Charles Health System

While damage to the lungs caused by COPD can’t be reversed, it can be slowed, so it’s important to stay away from anything that can irritate your lungs. Smokers are urged to quit their habit with help and support from St. Charles specialists.

People with COPD may also receive medications to open airways, allowing air to flow more easily. They may include:

  • Bronchodilators and cortisteriods: Taken with an inhaler or “puffer,” these reduce swelling or inflammation in the airway. They can be combined into one inhaler or taken separately. Short-acting bronchodilators act immediately. Long-acting bronchodilators work for a longer period.
  • Oral steroids: They reduce swelling in the airway, but usually are given for a few days at a time.
  • Antibiotics: People with COPD are prone to lung infections, so you may need to take antibiotics to fight infection.

Preventing COPD

Unless you have AAT deficiency, COPD is often preventable. If you smoke, quit. This will limit the damage that may have already occurred. If you work in an area that is heavily polluted or you are exposed to airborne irritants, be sure to wear masks or other protection over your mouth and nose while in that environment.

COPD is a serious diagnosis, but by making lifestyle changes and working with a St. Charles specialist to find effective treatment options, you can help slow the progression of the disease and maintain a full life.

If you think you may have COPD, don’t wait. Symptoms are a sign that the disease is progressing. Please consult your primary care doctor right away at St. Charles Health System.

In Central Oregon, St. Charles Health System strives to help people with COPD lead normal, healthy and happy lives.