Chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD) is the fifth biggest killer in the UK. It claims about 30,000 lives every year and there are around 1.3 million cases in the UK, although it has been estimated that up to 66% of cases are undiagnosed.
COPD causes long-term, irreversible damage to the lungs. People living with the condition will feel different levels of breathlessness, especially when exercising or moving around.
They may also experience a persistent cough, excess mucus production and wheezing.
It can not only have a devastating impact on a person’s physical health but also on their mental health. Feelings of isolation and loneliness are not uncommon and can lead to depression, anxiety and a sense of identity loss.
The earlier people are diagnosed, the better they can manage and control their condition. Nurses play a vital role in helping people improve their quality of life.
One of the most important ways in which we can help patients achieve this is through self-management. It encompasses everything from improving a person’s understanding of their disease, its processes and symptoms to helping with smoking cessation, inhaler technique and safe effective exercises.
Learning to self-manage can help a person living with COPD take control of some elements of their condition. Each person will experience their disease and its symptoms differently so their self-management plan will need to be individually tailored to suit them. The British Lung Foundation has developed a useful COPD self-management pack with the Association of Respiratory Nurse Specialists. The pack helps nurses and other healthcare professionals work closely with their patients and ensure they receive the right care.
Helping people with COPD learn to effectively alleviate some of COPD’s debilitating symptoms is integral to preserving each individual’s autonomy. It gives them control over how they live life day-to-day. This can greatly improve their quality of life and can reduce the frequency of admission to hospital in the long term.
It is important to understand that self-management is not just about nurses handing people a pack, sending them home and expecting them to deal with their COPD alone. It is about being there from the start to help them understand just how important self-management is in helping them reclaim their lives, independence and in slowing down the progression of their disease.
Ren Lawlor, advanced nurse practitioner, British Lung Foundation