COPD: take control again!

People with COPD can be severely burdened with their illness, the daily effects of which are often underestimated.1 When one is struggling with shortness of breath, activities like carrying a short flight of stairs or carrying a shopping bag become combative. Even routine activities can become stressful as the disease gradually worsens.2

About COPD

According to surveys by the Global Burden of Disease, COPD is the third leading cause of death, with 384 million people worldwide living with the disease today. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) affects about 4-7% of the adult population. In Hungary, the estimated number of patients alone is between 400 and 500,000, which is about 2-3 times the number registered in lung care.3

Gradual and irreversible exacerbation is characteristic of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Lung function is steadily declining, but the course of the disease can be significantly slowed with bronchodilators. The best known symptoms include a persistent cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Symptoms usually appear over the age of 45, most often in smokers, but continued exposure to chemicals also increases the chances of developing the disease.3

The effect of COPD on general well-being

The physical challenges of a chronic illness can often affect a person’s emotional state as well. In fact, shortness of breath is a major cause of discomfort and anxiety in people with COPD6, who attribute this to increased breathing effort, chest difficulty, shortness of breath, or wheezing. A global survey examining the day-to-day effects of COPD in younger and older adults found that People aged 45-54 are most likely to feel the effects of COPD on general well-being and that they often have to change their usual daily routine because of their symptoms..

Living with a chronic illness on its own can be stressful, not to mention experiencing shortness of breath, which can cause even greater anxiety, making the patient feel even more short of breath.4 This can become a vicious circle and even lead to a panic attack. Therefore, it is very important for people with COPD to find ways to treat shortness of breath and the anxiety associated with it. There are various breathing techniques and positions that can help if a person feels active or suddenly short of breath.5

Controlled breathing5

The essence of controlled breathing is to use the least amount of effort to breathe while making the most of the diaphragm – that is, the main breathing muscle. This breathing technique should be practiced with a relaxed posture while sitting. The focus is on reducing body tension and relaxing the muscles of the shoulders and neck. For starters, take a comfortable posture, it can be either sitting or lying down. Then we put our arms around our lap to keep our shoulders loose. We place one hand on our chest and the other on our stomach, close our eyes, and focus on our own breathing. Breathe in and out slowly through your nose, keeping your mouth closed. If we have managed to relax, the abdomen should move outward, as opposed to the hand placed on it, if the breathing is directed, the hand on the chest barely moves during breathing.

Fast breathing5

This breathing technique is useful when someone is active, such as walking or climbing stairs. It is also called stepped breathing because we adjust our steps to our breathing.

If you practice fast breathing while climbing stairs, inhale in one step and then blow out the air during the next one or two steps. We can adjust the pace of the steps in the way that is most ideal for us: we can take several steps while inhaling or exhaling.

Lip exhalation5

This technique helps to expel all air from the lungs, making it especially helpful for people with COPD, as air can become trapped in narrowed airways.

Inhale gently through your nose, then suddenly pinch your lips into a small o-shape. Then blow out the air with your lips clasped for as long as is comfortable, but without emptying your lungs completely.

Positions to relieve shortness of breath4

In some positions, the diaphragm works more efficiently, making it easier to breathe. It may be helpful to try to lean forward, such as on a table, or to lean your elbow forward on your knees. If you’re struggling with strong shortness of breath, putting your head and arms on a pillow on the table can help.

Finding a way to deal with shortness of breath and provide emotional well-being is key to living with COPD. Talking to a health care professional about how you feel can help you navigate the challenges of living with chronic lung disease. Ask your doctor about modern therapies for COPD to find the one that works best for you. Nowadays, inhalers are available for patients with COPD that are not difficult to use and do not pollute our environment. Regular consultation with your doctor and strict adherence to the prescribed therapy is very important during the maintenance of the disease!

  1. Dekhuijzen, RPN, Nicole Hass, Jinming Liu & Michael Dreher. Daily Impact of COPD in Younger and Older Adults: Global Online Survey Results from over 1,300 Patients. 2020. COPD: Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. 17:4, 419-428
  2. World Health Organisation. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Available at: (Accessed March 2021)
  3. Korányi Bulletin 2016.
  4. Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust. Physiotherapy for COPD. Pulmonary Rehabilitation. Available at: (Accessed March 2021)
  5. British Lung Foundation. How can I manage my breathlessness? Available at: (Accessed March 2021)
  6. Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD). Global Strategy for the Diagnosis, Management and Prevention of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. 2021 Report. Available at: (Accessed March 2021)

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