Helping patients to navigate what comes after a difficult diagnosis is a necessary part of our profession. In my many years working with patients facing progressive diseases, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), I have found that they often have questions, namely:
What do I do now?
That’s where we, as nurses and other health care providers, can offer answers. COPD is not currently curable; however, there is still hope for these patients. Lifestyle changes and medical advancements make it possible for patients to improve their ability to breathe and overall quality of life. The objective of treatment is to slow the progression of the disease and assist with managing its symptoms. As patients with COPD come to terms with their disease, here’s what I would recommend to guide them through the next steps of their journey, from diagnosis to treatment:
Work With Them to Create a Plan
After giving a diagnosis of COPD, educating patients on the disease and working with them on a personalized plan to start addressing their symptoms is an important first step. In fact, there are many lifestyle changes that patients can make every day to not only accommodate their new medical needs but also to help improve lung function. Committing to a diet of anti-inflammatory foods — like fatty fish or dark leafy greens — participating in regular low-impact physical activities and other techniques can help to reduce inflammation in the lungs that can exacerbate symptoms.
Help Them Take the Steps to Quit Smoking
Smoking can cause significant damage in the lungs which only increases over time. One of the best things that patients can do if they’ve been diagnosed with chronic lung disease is to quit smoking if they currently smoke. It’s important to arm them with information and tools they need to successfully do so — whether it’s helping them to identify smoking triggers, create an exercise and diet regimen or connect to support groups or other resources. For example, at Lung Health Institute, we offer our patients access to programs like American Lung Association’s Freedom From Smoking® Plus, a flexible online smoking cessation program that can be completed in six weeks.
Have an Honest Conversation About What Treatment Is Right for Them
Every patient is different, and treatments will vary for each patient with COPD — depending on the severity of the disease and other factors, including age, fitness level or medical history. That’s why it’s critical to create an environment where patients are comfortable being completely honest about how they’re feeling both physically and mentally. That will ensure that we can provide them with the best course of action when it comes to their treatment.
Melissa Rubio, Ph.D., APRN, is a nurse practitioner and principal investigator for research at the Lung Health Institute, based at its Dallas clinic. Rubio also currently serves as a visiting professor at DeVry University’s Chamberlain College of Nursing in Downers Grove, Illinois. Prior to joining Lung Health Institute, Rubio worked at Pleasant Ridge Internal Medicine in Arlington, Texas, as a family nurse practitioner. Rubio holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee College of Nursing. She also earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the same school. She is a board-certified family nurse practitioner and a certified principal investigator. Rubio is also a member of the North Texas Nurse Practitioners and the Southern Nursing Research Society.