Monday, November 12, 2007

The Effects Of COPD And The Medications Used To Treat It

In addition to physical symptoms, COPD can cause a variety of problems with both your thinking and your emotions. When your breathing suddenly becomes more difficult, your brain may get too little oxygen or too much carbon dioxide (the "waste" gas that is expelled by the lungs). If these conditions last for an extended period of time, your brain can get "sick" or actually be damaged, decreasing your ability to problem solve and remember. Other illnesses that frequently occur along with COPD, such as an infection, can add to the confusion and memory loss and make it difficult to pay attention.

The medications that you take for your COPD can also cause problems. Oral steroids - most commonly Prednisone - can cause all sorts of learning, memory and emotional problems. They can make you nervous, depressed, or more sensitive and irritable than usual. Some common antibiotics used in COPD can do the same things. When these side effects happen, it can be tempting to want to stop the medication. A better plan might be to let your doctor know what is happening so that he or she can either change the medication or find another way to relieve the problem.

Have you noticed any problems - either with your feelings or thinking - that you feel may be due to your illness or the medication? If so, write them down and discuss them with your doctor at your next visit.

The medications used to treat COPD can generally be divided into two categories. Those in the first group are meant to be taken on an "as needed" basis to make your breathing better right away. Those in the second group need to be taken regularly, as prescribed, in order to be effective. Be sure that you discuss with your doctor which of your medications fall into each category and that you are taking them properly.

In addition, some medications work best when taken before, after, or at a different time than other medications. List all the medications you take at each time of the day and in the order you usually take them. Check to see if this is the order your doctor thinks is best for you.

It may be hard to remember to take all of your medications. Recognizing this and taking steps to help your self remember is an important part of managing your COPD.

Tips for Managing Your Medications

- Combine taking your medications with other routines or habits. For instance, keep your morning and evening medications next to your toothbrush. Then, in the morning and at bedtime, take your medications before you brush your teeth.
- If you have to take pills at various times throughout the day and you find yourself getting distracted and forgetting, invest in a wristwatch with an alarm, or you can use a cooking timer. Then set it for each of your scheduled medication times.
- Get a pillbox with sections for the different days of the week and even different times during each day. This way you can plan out a week's worth of medication at a time and will be able to see if you miss any doses.
- If you have trouble organizng your pillbox, ask for help- from a family member, a friend, or someone in your doctor's office.
- If you find yourself frequently missing medication doses, keep a diary of when that happens. Then bring it in to your doctor so the two of you can work at finding a solution.
-Keep a day's-worth of pills with you at all times so that if something unexpected comes up when you're away from home you'll be able to stick to your medication schedule.
- If some of your medications cause unpleasant side effects, let your doctor know. Maybe by changing the dose the side effects can be relieved, or maybe the medication can be changed.
-If you're not sure you're taking your medications correctly, or if you think your inhalers aren't working, ask your doctor or respiratory therapist.
-When traveling, keep all of your medications with you in your carry-bag.

One final consideration when discussing COPD and the medications used to treat it is the accessibility of those medications. Many are not inexpensive and many of us are uninsured or under insured.
Unfortunately there is no magic wand to wave over that problem to make it go away, but there are resources that may be able to help you. Please leave a comment here or email me (click on the letter icon below this post) and I will try to steer you toward some assistance.