Chronic Disease Education
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COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
Information - COPD
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is used to describe chronic lung diseases, including bronchitis, refractory (non-reversible asthma) and emphysema. Patients with COPD have difficulty exhaling all of the air in their lungs. In many cases, this lung damage is caused by smoking. If you have COPD, it’s important to see your physician regularly, because the disease is characterized by flare-ups and remissions. In some cases, it affects patients silently, and it’s only later that it impacts their quality of life and leads to hospitalization or death.
To determine if you have COPD your physician may recommend a breathing test called spirometry to assess lung function. This test is easy to perform and takes only 15 minutes to complete. Should further testing be necessary your doctor may recommend a:
- Physical Exam
- Additional Pulmonary function tests
- Chest x-ray
- Cardiac enzyme test
The main treatment for COPD is a bronchodilator (inhaled medication). If your shortness of breath is severe your physician may also prescribe:
- Antibiotics (to treat a viral infection)
- Machine-assisted breathing
There are also certain lifestyle changes you’ll need to make including quitting smoking, avoiding environmental pollutants, getting enough exercise, and eating a COPD-friendly diet.
Diet and COPD
Nutrition plays an important role in managing COPD and it's complications. Fiber and the macronutrient protein are very important as well as certain vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and sodium. Antioxidants, found in richly coloured fruit and vegetables, as well as omega-3 rich foods like salmon can also play a role in helping to reduce inflammation in the body.
Fiber is an important part of everyone’s diet, and especiall for those with COPD. Fiber helps move food through your digestive system, and it can help control cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Look for high-fiber foods such as:
- Fruits (apples, oranges, strawberries)
- Vegetables (yams, sweet potatoes, broccoli)
- Whole grains (whole grain bread & pasta, oats, brown rice, spelt, buckwheat)
Protein is an essential component for overall health and supports a healthy immune system. Good sources of protein include:
- Lean meats
- Peanut and nut butters
Up to half of COPD patients have low phosphorus levels due to poor nutrition and/or certain medications. Phosphorus contributes to healthy lung function, so look to include foods such as:
- Dairy products
Magnesium is another mineral that contributes to healthy lung function. Foods high in magnesium include:
- Dark green vegetables
- Whole grains
- Beans and lentils
5. Calcium & vitamin D
Patients with COPD need to eat foods rich in calcium and vitamin D to keep bones healthy and strong. One side effect of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is weak and brittle bones. Include food such as:
- dairy products
- canned fish such as sardines & salmon (with the bones!)
- collard greens & broccoli
- fortified orange juice
Excess dietary sodium can cause fluid retention which makes breathing difficult. Choose:
- fresh, unprocessed foods
- avoid packaged, prepared foods
- read food labels for sodium values
- use more herbs, spices and salt-free seasonings to add flavour
Some individuals find the DASH diet an excellent plan to help reduce their sodium intake. The DASH diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH diet encourages whole grains, lots
of vegetables and fruit, nuts/seeds and legumes, lean meats and fish.
Here is an example meal plan:
- 2/3 cup steel cut oatmeal with ¼ cup ground almonds and ¼ tsp cinnamon
- 1 cup mixed berries and 2 tbsp Greek yogurt
- Quinoa and bean salad – 1 cup cooked quinoa, ½ cup mixed beans, cucumber, green beans, red onion, shredded carrots, celery, balsamic vinaigrette.
- 1 cup cantaloupe
- 1 cup seedless grapes and 1oz cheese
- Kale salad in lemon Caesar dressing
- 4oz grilled salmon
- Roasted cauliflower, sweet potato and white potato
- Baked apple in cinnamon
To learn more about the DASH diet click here.
COPD Complications and Nutrition
Some patients experience breathlessness during or after a meal which can effect the ability or desire to eat. You can reduce or prevent this symptom by:
- Taking small bites
- Chewing slowly
- Eating smaller meals
- Drinking liquids after a meal, not during
- Clearing mucus from the airways before eating
2. Weight Control
Patients with COPD may be under or overweight depending on the individual. If you have chronic pulmonary obstructive disease and are underweight, you may need to find ways to add additional calories to your diet through things like nutritional shakes. If you’re overweight or obese, you may need to go on a low-calorie diet. If either of these situations apply talk to your healthcare provider about the right options for you.
3. Water Retention
Water retention can cause uncomfortable symptoms for people with COPD. Always check labels for the sodium content, and avoid adding salt to your food. If you want to add flavour, use herbs or salt substitutes.
COPD medications can interact with certain foods, especially caffeine and alcohol. Talk to your healthcare provider about your medications and possible interactions.
If you'd like more information on COPD talk to your family physician.
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Print this Action Plan and check off items that you want to discuss with your healthcare provider
Quit smoking through a smoking cessation program.
Follow a COPD-friendly diet to improve my nutrition
Start an exercise plan to increase daily activity levels.
Reduce my exposure to environmental pollutants
Discuss medication options with my family doctor.