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Staying Well, Staying Active with COPD

​​​​​​Shortness of breath wasn’t enough to slow down Nancy Kessler, 75, Exeland in Sawyer County. Kessler had a two-year history of shortness of breath and a persistent cough when she was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in 2008. 

​​ Nancy Kessler, Exeland, Wisconsin

Kessler likes to be out and about doing meal deliveries or escort driving for her nearby senior center. Staying well despite having COPD has kept Kessler doing the activities she enjoys.

“I was not surprised to learn that I had COPD,” said Kessler. “My mother and sister suffered from bronchitis more than once a year and almost everyone in my family smoked at some point in our lives.”

Kessler ended her smoking habit about 15 years ago. The lifestyle change adversely affected her in some ways. “I got heavier when I quit smoking,” she said. Despite establishing a walking routine in her retirement, her increasing weight aggravated her breathing problems and the coughing increased.

“I started smoking at 15,” said Kessler. “A close friend helped me recognize it was time to quit.” She tried several different smoking cessation treatments including alternative therapies. “I eventually found the help and support I needed to stop.”

“Nancy is a very typical COPD patient,” said Pulmonary Medicine Physician Edward Ebert, D.O., Marshfield Clinic Chippewa, Ladysmith and Rice Lake Centers. “She is a former smoker and has a family history of lung disease. Pulmonary function testing helped determine that Nancy has moderate COPD. Her lung disease is emphysema.”

COPD is caused by conditions such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive asthma. Airways in the lungs are blocked or collapsed, making breathing more difficult. The condition may include flare-ups triggered by exposure to second-hand smoke or other fumes. Although not curable, COPD symptoms can be managed.

“Tobacco cessation is the first and foremost step for newly diagnosed COPD patients,” said Dr. Ebert. “Then we trial medications to help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. We want patients to be comfortable so they can continue to do daily activities as much as possible. We’ll consider supplementing with oxygen at rest, during activity and when sleeping.”

Medications and oxygen use are working for Kessler. “Nancy is good about taking her medications and is comfortable calling my office when she has questions or concerns,” said Dr. Ebert. “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of staying in touch with your doctor, taking your medications, keeping your doctor appointments and calling with questions. Nancy is using good common sense. It has kept her well so she can do what she enjoys.”

Prednisone, a steroid medication, is sometimes prescribed for flare-ups. “With every prescription, you can gain five pounds,” said Kessler. “That’s an additional motivator to stay well. But if I need to take it to get better, I will.”

With more of an effort to recognize COPD, patients with the condition are being screened and identified sooner. “Patients can lose 30 to 40 percent of lung function before COPD is identified,” said Dr. Ebert. “If patients are identified earlier, we can get smoking cessation started and develop a treatment plan to help patients feel better.”

Kessler doesn’t use COPD as an excuse for not living her life to the fullest. “I don’t see anything that I can’t do,” she said. “I believe in doing as much as you can.”