Newly Diagnosed with COPD: How Will I Cope?

As I was browsing the internet, I came across a blog posted on CNN. A woman who was recently diagnosed asked what COPD was, and what could she expect.

Their response:

“Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a disease that truly negatively affects quality of life. Patients with COPD are prone to asthma-like wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness and coughing that can occur in episodes caused by chronic inflammation. They're also prone to viral and bacterial infections.

Newly Diagnosed with COPD It is the fourth most common cause of death in the United States, killing an estimated 120,000 people each year. While COPD is most noted for episodes of shortness of breath and wheezing, the disease is typically slowly progressive and persistent. Medical treatment can be successful in relieving symptoms and reducing the severity of exacerbations.

Treatment is with inhaled bronchodilators, steroids to reduce inflammation and other oral medications.”

Despite COPD actually being the THIRD leading cause of death in the U.S., this description is correct. But what's missing from it is describing what it's like emotionally about your COPD diagnosis.

You may have felt stunned when you first learned of your diagnosis. If you had never heard of COPD before, the explanation you received may have seemed pretty mysterious and even frightening. Or maybe you felt relieved to finally know what was causing your symptoms. Some people respond to learning about their breathing problems by diving right in and learning everything they can about it. They feel like they are taking charge and exerting some control over their condition. Other people prefer to learn about lung disease more slowly. This gives them time to let the information sink in. It gives time to think about their questions. These are just two examples of the kinds of coping styles people commonly use when they learn about their medical condition.

Psychologists have identified a set of emotional responses to loss. Known as the “Grieving Process,” it includes five stages. As you adjust to the diagnosis of COPD and some loss of lung function, you are likely to have many of these emotions. However, you may not necessarily move in a step-wise fashion from stage 1 to stage 5. Sometimes people go backwards and forwards as they move through this process. There is no set time limit for completing any of these stages.

The Grieving Process Five Phases:


  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

There are also different coping styles among people. Here are some of them.

  • Confrontive coping: Involves aggressive efforts to change the situation. It suggests some degree of risk-taking.
  • Distancing: A conscious effort to detach oneself and to minimize the importance of the situation.
  • Self-controlling: An effort to regulate one’s feelings and actions.
  • Seeking social support: An effort to seek real support such as financial assistance and emotional support.
  • Accepting responsibility: Acknowledges one’s own role in the problem along with trying to put things right.
  • Escape-avoidance: Involves wishful thinking and efforts to escape or avoid the problem.
  • Planful problem-solving: Involves purposeful problem-focused efforts to change the situation. Includes a logical approach to solving the problem.
  • Positive reappraisal: An effort to create positive meaning by focusing on personal growth. It may have a religious aspect.

What are some things you do to cope? What was it like for you when you were diagnosed? What advice would you give to newly diagnosed individuals with COPD?


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  • I was stunned...then glad to know what had been wrong with me, then destroyed because my husband left me right before the Holidays. I went to the net to find out all that I could & see what stage I was in. In the meantime my son J & his girlfriend had a little baby boy, I'm trying to take care of business, roll with life on a day~to~day basis, pray & just do what I can. :)

    • So sorry to hear about your troubles over the holiday. Congrats on the new addition to your family! You seem to have a great attitude. Sending positive thoughts your way.
    • Hi TenaMarie - I'm so sorry about everything that you're going through, and want to encourage you to ask for a referral to a pulmonologist, so that you're sure to get the best possible care. Please don't worry about what stage you're in - those are just guidelines to help the doctor determine what types of medications a person needs to be on. What's more important is how you feel, continuing to do what you have been doing, and enjoying being a grandma.

  • I was Mad ! I had fell Thanksgiving , sprained my right wrist , left ankle and cracked a rib. I did not have time for all of this I had company ! days turned to weeks Christmas was just a few days away I was sick ! Wanted to sleep all the time was still limping around and coughing , and coughing! So I went on to urgent care and they said Bronchitis , put on meds. for that , 7 days later back and now Pneumonia , ER that night Exacerbation asthma/COPD .
    I'm seeing Pulmonary Dr and still working my way back ... Just could not understand how I could go from doing ok to this shape in a matter of 5 weeks ? I;m now trying to learn all I can . Glad I found This site !
    • Hi Tess welcome to the site. Sorry to hear about everything that has happened to you in five weeks.
      I was told in 2011 that I had COPD and didn't believe it, I was treated over and over for either sinus infections or bronchitis until I ended up in ER in 2015 with pneumonia. COPD seems to creep up on us and it usually takes a major event for it sink in. I hope you find some good information on this site. There are lots of people here for you!!
    • Hey , Thanks for Comment ! I did not mark where I was so I could not find blog again :( Newbies!
      I am finding out a lot of good things and learning some things Not so good but I need to know.
      I think The breathing exercise has helped me the most ! Thanks
  • Thank you Karen,
    yes ma'am, I need a new lung dr & a new pcp, I'm tired of them both treating me as fast as they can to get me out of their hair! My lung dr doesn't answer any questions or tell me anything If it isn't about the lung itself, my pcp dr, she acts like I'm interrupting lunch or a hair appointment. I'm very disappointed in them both. Unfortunately, this is the way of the Drs.' up here in the north where I am, I want to go home, back down south. I even put up a campaign at, I have been through the wringer, this man leaves me after I'm diagnosed, & takes everything, money, vehicle etc. I don't know where else to turn. I've prayed so much The Lord must be tired of hearing from lol.
    But I feel like I'm up against that Big Clock in the sky, seems like everyone else is dragging their feet :/
    Nevertheless, God has Blessed me. Thanks Karen :)

    • My God never haseen left me
      Know on the other hand; I have been full of rebellion. Thus I could not have conscience contact, in return i separated my self from my Higher Power.
      Making a decision to reconnect is the first step for me. Then acceptance. Soon following belief of this power. Then another decision to let go and let God.
      Good luck be courageous be strong you can do it.
    • GOOD EVENING TENAMarie, You are not alone with the PCP DOCS. or the PULM. DOCS They have treated me like they are treating you for at least 3 years.@ months ago i received a DISMISSAL LETTER from my PCP DOC. because my Hubby went to his office to find out why my meds were not called in for 2 weeks The nurse kept saying That it was on his desk to be approved.(SHE WAS LYING AS WE FOUND OUT LATER ) & of course he stuck up for her.Then the next day the letter came CERTIFIED. Made me sick Because 2 days later the same letter came & said he had to take care of me for 30 days in an emergency. Same with the PULM. DOC in room & out in 5 min. Not good down South. Trying to find a DOC that will listen to me as i am really sick & need help. I now go to appts. with my watch on so i can see how long they stay in the room & how much they charge MEdICARE & my INS. & then i will report them as i think that is fraud ....CAROL
  • I hear the same complaints about doctors from every part of the country. When I was first diagnosed 15 years ago, I got the same treatment. I was in the hospital. The doctor came into the room, said, "You have COPD.", and walked out. Incredible! I couldn't come to terms with this disease until I did a lot of research, talked to a "real" doctor at length, and worked through those pesky 5 stages of "grief". But I've come to be at peace with reality. I can't do some things I might like to do. I don't have the mobility or stamina I once had. And yes, I'll die with this disease, although I don't have to die from it. But I have a family who loves me, plenty of things I enjoy doing, and meaningful work. I'm pretty happy, and pretty lucky. I wish all of you the best. Don't give up!
    • Thanks Jim,
      give up is not in my vocabulary :) I'm stubborn, lol, I will get it all sorted like it's supposed to be. Around here I guess it's common, they don't react to it like you would think. But The Lord is with me & He will show me what I must do.
      Have a Super Weekend!! :)

  • Just found out a week or so ago that I have COPD answer was put straight on to oxygen.
    I do have a 12 step program. So very thankful.
    So here I go once agin to be a warrior of a disease.
    • I found out I had COPD very gradually. . . . an allergy specialist said I was in a "condition" that would mean my capacity to breathe would decline more rapidly than for other people, but he didn't tell me any more than that. My regular physician, at that time, told me I had asthma and should keep that in mind. As I had had asthma really badly as a child, ages 8-11, my reaction was: So what else is new? Finally I got a family specialist who firmly guided me to the pulmonology clinic and I got a full bunch of the usual tests. When I went back to my doctor for results, he firmly told me I had COPD (which I had never heard of), told me about it, prescribed medicines, and was very warm and comforting. I still was doing fine until I went on the 'Net and found that phrase, "COPD is a chronic, progressive, and ultimately fatal disease." Bad blues for a while, especially not knowing when it was "ultimately fatal": in a few months, a few years, or decades. My new pulmonologist had the good sense to refer me to a Pulmonology Rehabilitation Program. Wow!!! One of the best things that EVER happened to me. A wonderful, thoughtful, (and funny) staff, people like me who were warm and receiving, and a program that taught me that okay, we all die, but we can postpone it a bit and, even more important, we can get ourselves into shape, physically and emotionally, so that we enjoy and use to the fullest the time we do have. (Two of my fellow patients are in their late 80s -- just knowing them is a delight).
      Take Away: Get into a Pulmonolgy Program as soon as you can and stay with it. Do it. Do it!!!!!!
    • Advice to a newly diagnosed patient: Find a Pulmonolgy Rehabilitation Program, join it, and stay with it!!!!!!!!!
  • can I ask what a Pulmonolgy Program is. This is all new to me.
    • Hi Pigglylover57
      Pulmonary Rehabilitation, similar to cardio rehab or other forms of physical therapy. You do need a script and typically insurance does not cover it until you are stage 3 or stage 4. You'll learn how to exercise in a safe environment. There is usually an educational component to it as well so you'll also learn pursed lip breathing, diet, and other COPD related topics. If nothing else you will know how to monitor your O2 saturation while you exercise. I think most of us that have done it would strong recommend it.
  • It was a shocker to my family when we found out my dad had chronic bronchitis, i immediately started looking for things that would help him live a better life despite his condition, and i want to say that what has helped him a lot is purifying the air inside his house, he uses an air & room cleaning system named HYLA and he swears by it, my mom uses it to vacuum but it is supposed to clean the air while it vacuums so that's awesome. I know that they also have air-purifying plants inside their home, to get rid of pollutants. I hope this is a good tip for someone who is looking for natural or not-so-natural remedies. you may check out the website for the HYLA, it is and they do in-home DEMOS of the product.
  • I have been experimenting with different foods and supplements that "play" well with COPD patients. Over the past couple of weeks, finding foods that I can keep down has been an ongoing battle LOL. Since the medical community seems to think that Beet juice will help, I will give it a try. I have found that bland and low or sodium free has the best chance of being metabolized into your system...If what you eat ends up getting regurgitated before your body can process it..then it is not helping at all and is likely doing much more damage to your body.
    Foods that seem to sit well, at least with me, are things like Mashed potatoes with butter,(I don't like gravy LOL), Potato salad,( I was actually able to enjoy and keep down with no real effort an entire 1 lb tub of it bought from Price Chopper yesterday!).
    Toast with butter and a small amount of jelly/jam along with fruit juice, while not as nutritious as a full meal, can help those who in the morning feel their worst at rest. Maybe consider throwing in some fresh fruit, grapes, apple slices etc as a means of energy boost throughout the day. I have found recently that these fruits can help your day become easier to manage.
    Drink WATER....and LOTS OF IT, your body runs at a completely different temp and level than "normal" people...KEEP IT HYDRATED!( Drinking sodium free V8 juice right now LOL.).
    I am hoping that this information will be helpful to someone, ANYTHING that can reduce not only the physical, but also the psychological weights that you bear is a very welcomed.
    You HAVE GOT TO EAT folks, otherwise your body will not be able to fight off the continual onslaught of sickness and disease that COPD sufferers are so prone to.
    If I can be of any help to any of you, or maybe you being a help to me or others, would be welcomed.

    In addition, It has come to my attention that in Britain, they have been using stem cell treatments for those with COPD as well as other lung diseases....with some fairly remarkable not only lessening of symptoms, but actually reversing some of the lung damage already being experienced by many.
    These stem cells are YOUR OWN stem cells, removed from YOUR OWN BLOOD and re injected into the bloodstream where the stems are sent directly to the heart and lungs through a natural body reaction called the "pulmonary trap" where they adhere and begin to do their repairs.
    Studies like this offer a hope to many who have no other options. Most of us will never be able to afford such treatment, but at least there is space for some ongoing help.
    • Ed, your comments about various foods are interesting, and I could probably also eat a pound of potato salad in one sitting, if it was my recipe :-)

      However, I want to point you to two articles about the current state of stem cell therapy - the first is from the COPD Foundation and the second is from the American Thoracic Society (ATS). It sounds as if what they are doing in the UK is very similar.

  • Hello to all. This site is awesome. I was recently told I have copd and 3 years of declining function after having been treated for 17 years for asthma that was not fully reversible. But I have not had a flare up of any kind. I had a 2 day copd or an asthma attack about 20 years ago though. So I was wondering. Does everyone with copd get exacerbations?
    • Not necessarily - it depends. If you have a good immune system, you may never have a flare-up (which is an exacerbation). I know of some COPD'ers who have never had one, and I know of some who struggle with them frequently. The best thing to do is to be very aware of your own personal triggers, and have an Action Plan in place with your doctor to stop a potential exacerbation before it starts, or to at least lessen the severity. I hope you continue to do well.
    • Hi Yappy,
      I'm glad you found this site. As Karen mentioned, it is important to know what your triggers or sensitivities are as they can impact your ability to stay healthy and the developing the Action Plan is a great way to have a strong foundation of communication with your provider.
      Wishing you well!
  • I was recently diagnosed with COPD, moderate. I am very happy with my PCP , Pulmonologist, and Cardiologist. I am also a retired registered nurse who worked primarily in mental health. I am so frustrated and depressed, I can’t imagine how most people learn to cope with this. It’s our medical system that pretty much says a follow up visit is 15 min. , insurance runs everything and few drs really want to accept Medicare puts even with supplemental insurance..I struggle to breathe. My lung function tests at least the first half was normal , but the RT gave me albutral updraft for my shortness of breath in the middle of the part of the test she completed. . I will never go to the hospital for testing again without a family member. I rested in the lobby for 30 min before I attempted to walk to my car. I was so weak I was afraid of falling.. My cardiologist says my breathing is a respiratory problem, my pulmonologist continues to prescribe inhalers buts says she thinks it’s mostly anxiety. ..I will gladly treat any anxiety but please know my breathing difficulties only occur after exercise and slowly response as I rest. I am not fearful but embarrassed when I can’t function at something. Only someone who struggles for air can understand. I may panic someday , but not yet. I am very much aware that the worse thing if I don’t slow my breathe if I would likely pass out.. i have not yet had a ct , which I will ask for. Both my pulmonologist and cardiologist wanted a 3 month follow up. . My husband died of pulmonary fibrosis. My father and his father died of lung cancer. . I have followed my pulmonologist advise from our first visit and I have lost a total of 15 lbs. I have recently begun going to the gym daily during the week. I have worked up to 15 min of cardio with difficulty, and doing 1 repetition on different machines every other day for endurance. I know I must be my own best advocate and take responsibility for maintaining as much self reliance as possible.. Sorry, this is so long but I imagine others are also feeling this way. .I am so tired and truly don’t want my children to know how discouraged I feel. I also know that I am one of the lucky ones.. My faith is a blessing. I know God can bring good or turn this into something that will strengthen me..
    • Your description of your experience with the spirometry test is odd. For most of us a shot of albuterol (which is part of the testing routine) would have had the effect of either making our breathing a bit better or at least no worse. It wounds like you had a very different reaction. The fact that your cardio and pulmonary docs can't decide on what's going on is worrisome. Also your exercise intolerance seems excessive for a diagnosis of mild COPD.

      I don't know where you live, but I would suggest finding a good research or university hospital with a good pulmonary department and going there for a full diagnostic workup, including full-blow pulmonary and cardiac testing. It would be worth the time travel and hotel fees if you got an answer to the problems you're experiencing.

      Meantime, I'd also find a good cognitive behavioral therapist to help you cope with everything that you're dealing with now. Anxiety could certainly be part of the problem and if you can learn to deal with it, you'll be that much better off. Best of luck!