Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic disease that makes it difficult for you to breathe. No cure for COPD is available, and it tends to worsen, or progress, over time. It’s important to diagnose the disease early. If you get treatment early, you may be able to slow the worsening of symptoms. Medical professionals can also give you advice on how to stay active with COPD and suggest ways to reduce symptoms you’re already experiencing.

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of COPD or if you have a family history of COPD, you should make an appointment with your primary care physician. They’ll play a major role in the diagnosis and management of this disease.

If your doctor determines that you do in fact have COPD, they’ll most likely prescribe medication to help control your symptoms. They’ll advise you about other treatments and lifestyle changes as well. These may include quitting smoking, changing your diet, and changing your exercise routine.

Your doctor may also refer you to specialists.


Your doctor may refer you to a pulmonologist. A pulmonologist is a doctor who specializes in conditions of the lungs and respiratory tract. Pulmonologists complete an additional two or three years of medical training in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of lung and respiratory problems. A pulmonologist treats COPD as well as other serious respiratory conditions, such as asthma and pneumonia.

Respiratory therapist

A respiratory therapist (RT) is a trained health professional who works with people who have heart and lung problems. An RT may guide you through breathing treatments and exercises to help you breathe better.

You should take along some information that your doctor will need to make an accurate diagnosis. Finding the information ahead of time may make it easier to answer your doctor’s questions.

It’s also helpful to have a list of questions you would like to ask the doctor. Having them written down assures that you won’t forget anything important you want to ask. It’s a good idea to put your questions in order of importance with the most important first. This way, if you run out of time, you’ll have asked them the ones that matter the most.

Information to bring to your appointment

Your doctor will want to know the following:

  • what symptoms you’re having
  • when your symptoms started
  • what makes you feel better
  • what makes you feel worse
  • if anyone in your family has COPD
  • if you’re getting treatment for any other medical conditions
  • what medications you take and in what amounts
  • if you’ve ever taken beta-blockers

Questions your doctor will ask

In addition to the above information, you can expect your doctor to ask a number of questions, such as:

  • Do you smoke?
  • Have you ever smoked?
  • Are you regularly exposed to secondhand smoke?
  • Do you work around dust or other pollutants?
  • Do you cough up mucus? If so, what color is it?
  • Do you get short of breath easily?
  • How long has this been going on?

Questions to ask your doctor

You should create your own list of questions. Questions you may wish to ask include the following:

  • Do I have COPD?
  • Do I have emphysema, bronchitis, or both?
  • What treatment do you suggest?
  • Will I need to take medications for the rest of my life?
  • Will I get better?
  • What else can I do to feel better?

Anxiety, depression, and stress are common in people who have COPD. These may increase as the disease progresses. It can be very helpful to talk about how you feel. Share your concerns with your healthcare team, as well as with your family and friends.

You might want to join a support group. It can help to see how other people are coping with the same condition. If you feel overwhelmed or depressed, professional counseling might help. Your doctor can refer you to local support groups and counselors. They may also prescribe medication to help you cope.

You may find additional information and support from the following organizations:

  • American Lung Association
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
  • COPD Foundation