COPD: What You Should Know

Discover what else could be affecting your lungs

A Veteran measuring his lung capacity If you have trouble breathing, it could be a symptom of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. COPD is a combination of ongoing conditions that affect your lungs and breathing. These conditions can include chronic bronchitis and emphysema. COPD can be prevented and treated. It can be recognized by its key characteristic: difficulty breathing, especially when breathing out. However, if you have COPD, you may have other symptoms.

If you're having trouble breathing, talk to your doctor by sending a Secure Message to help guide you in the right direction. Knowing the signs of COPD is important. Here's what we know about COPD and what it might mean for your health.

Veterans and COPD

Veterans are at higher risk of COPD than those in the general U.S. population. Some of the work Veterans have performed may have led to environmental and occupational exposure. Veterans should be aware of COPD and know the signs. The physical activity associated with military life may uncover symptoms of COPD earlier among people in the armed forces. Patients in the military or Veterans may show signs of COPD early on in their lives. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD.

What Is COPD?

In COPD, the airways in your lungs are blocked (obstructed). Because of this, breathing takes more effort. You may have started limiting your activities to avoid shortness of breath. Without treatment, you may not be able to do as much for yourself and need to rely more on others. 

Diagnosing COPD

Shortness of breath may prompt you to see a doctor. In many cases, though, COPD progresses for years without symptoms. To diagnose COPD, you'll need a medical evaluation. If your doctor suspects COPD, you'll complete breathing tests to learn the extent of the problem.

Treatments for COPD

Your COPD treatment plan will likely include several forms of treatment. Your plan is based on your symptoms and the underlying cause of your COPD. Your health care team will prescribe the best treatments for you.

While COPD cannot be cured, you can manage it. The only reliable way to slow the disease is to stop smoking. Medications may reduce or relieve symptoms. Lifestyle changes, such as exercising, doing breathing exercises, and taking rest breaks may help reduce symptoms. If you have shortness of breath or any other symptoms, see your provider as soon as possible. Sign in to My HealtheVet today and discuss an appointment with your health care team. 

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Read More

Living Well with COPD (Veterans Health Library)

Day to Day with COPD

1-855-QUIT-VET (VA's Tobacco Quitline)


Updated September 2, 2022