World COPD Day: How to live your best life post-diagnosis

Today marks the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease’s (GOLD) worldwide awareness day. This year the theme is ‘Living well with COPD - Everybody, Everywhere’ and in the spirit, we have some top-notch knowledge to help you spot symptoms and live your best life post-diagnosis.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a group of currently incurable but highly preventable chronic conditions. Including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, the condition is identified by breathlessness, coughing and difficulty breathing. It is caused by inflammation in the airways because of the inhalation of harmful chemicals over time.

In 2020, 1.2 million people are living with diagnosed COPD in the UK and it is the third leading cause of death globally. Despite this, a survey carried out by the British Lung Foundation showed that over half of people living with a diagnosis didn’t understand their condition. Couple this with the fact that one million people could be living without a diagnosis in Britain, there is no doubt that COPD needs a light shined onto it. 

The chronic condition is more commonly caused by smoking and the inhalation of pollutants in the air. The WHO predicts that deaths caused by COPD will increase by 30% over the next decade due to pollution - a figure that could well rise thanks to the redirection of funds and expertise from Covid-19.

Alison Cook, chair of the Taskforce for Lung Health and director of external at the British Lung Foundation tells talkhealth: 'Despite the fact that we have all become much more aware of the importance of having healthy lungs during the pandemic, people with lung conditions continue to be left behind in terms of getting early and accurate diagnosis, treatment and care.'

talkhealth spoke to Elina Ivalko, a 32-year-old patient from Ireland. Having never smoked, she was diagnosed with COPD at 26 after an x-ray of her lungs showed signs of emphysema. The diagnosis came 10 years after a previous x-ray had shown similar red flags that were at the time ignored.

Elina is an now an advocate for increasing knowledge of COPD.

‘I think that there is a lack of awareness around COPD because the most common cause for it is smoking so people might think that it’s their own fault. Some people are even ashamed to talk about it for fear of judgement from others.'

To make sure that other people with the condition know that they are not alone, Elina began sharing her story on social media: ‘I noticed that I was the youngest patient in my support group so I figured it would be good to try to raise some awareness about COPD and emphysema. I also want to highlight that it is not something that only older people can get sick with!’

This year’s World COPD Day is more powerful than ever. The global collaboration between patients, healthcare professionals and charities aims to send the message that although COPD is not curable, patients can live well with the disease. Exercise, nutrition and increasing knowledge about the diagnosis are all key steps to positive engagement.  

Here are some top tips for living your best life post-diagnosis: 

Exercise: As with any lung condition diagnosis, keeping active and healthy helps to improve your quality of life, maintain your weight and manage your condition. From low impact activities like walking or gardening to more strenuous exercise classes, it's important to move in a way that is comfortable and enjoyable for you. 

Elina’s Instagram is as much about exercise than it is her COPD, although she has to ensure that she has her inhalers on her and oxygen for outdoor and more strenuous activity, indoor activity has been vital throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘I got myself an indoor bike at the beginning of the outbreak and it has probably paid itself back already - I have cycled over 5,000 kilometres! It is also great because I find it very hard to breathe outside when it is very windy or humidity is high.’

Before setting your sights on completing your exercise, we recommend that you visit your GP to ensure that you can do so safely.

Stay relaxed: Living with any chronic diagnosis can cause stress in patients after all health is much more than physical wellbeing! Panic attacks impair the breathing of healthy people so would be increasingly detrimental to those living with COPD. 

Maintaining a relaxed lifestyle by spending more time with loved ones, reducing caffeine intake and making sure your home is comfy is an easy way to reduce stress. Taking up yoga or booking in for a massage are also known to help too! 

Breathing exercises are also encouraged for the maintenance of zen and they are also known to be a key therapy for those with COPD. Ask your GP for more details.

Try supplements and essential oils: Research has shown that those with lower vitamin D levels encounter more severe COPD flare-ups. Although there is no way of reversing the damage done to the lungs by the condition, increasing your intake of the vitamin through supplements could lessen your symptoms. 

Eucalyptus and orange oils are thought to reduce airway inflammation and there have been lots of scientific and patient studies that back this up. Before trying any complementary remedies, you should consult your doctor as some can interact or interfere with medication. 

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 18 November 2020
Next review: 18 November 2023