Because stage 1 of COPD doesn’t have very obvious symptoms, it’s not uncommon to not even notice that there is something wrong it until it gets more serious. Patients will still have a decent FEV1 — forced expiratory volume — and may think the little signs of COPD that show up at this point are due to things like allergies, common colds, getting older, or being a smoker.
What symptoms are characteristic of Stage 1 COPD?
Early symptoms of COPD that warrant a call to your physician include (mild) shortness of breath, noticeably increased mucus, a persistent but not severe cough, wheezing, or a tendency to tire much faster. While these symptoms can be fairly harmless and temporary, they often do signal that you have COPD. If they're familiar to you, don't be like most people and just hope they'll go away — early diagnosis means timely and therefore more effective treatment. If you smoke or you have a risk of occupational COPD, be especially mindful, and call your doc at the first hint of a symptom that could point to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
How is Stage 1 COPD diagnosed?
If you approach your doctor with the symptoms that are typical of mild COPD, you can expect:
- To be questioned about your symptoms in detail
- To be asked about your personal and family medical history
- To undergo a physical exam, despite the fact that they are not very informative at this stage
- To have a spirometry, a straightforward and non-invasive breathing test
During a spirometry test, you'll deeply inhale and then forcefully breathe out into a tube connected to the spirometer. Next, you'll be given a medication to open your airways, and repeat the test. This test shows you your forced vital capacity (FVC), or how much air you can expel in a breath. It will also tell you how much air you managed to expel in the first second, which is known as forced expiratory volume (FEV1). Combined, these numbers will give your doctor a new figure that indicates your lung function. If you have COPD with an FEV1 of 80 percent or up, you're in Stage 1.
Other tests your doctor can consider include:
- An alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAt) deficiency test looks genes linked to COPD. This test is suitable for younger people with a family history of COPD.
- A chest X-ray or CT to look for emphysema and rule out other conditions like lung cancer.
- A six-minute walk test is basically what it sounds like — you walk for six minutes, and then this test will determine how much exercise is safe for you.
- Tests to figure out your blood oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.
How is Stage 1 COPD treated?
It’s crucial to do something now if you think you might have COPD, because there's no time like the present to slow down the development of COPD and maximize your health for a long time to come. If you do find out you have COPD early on, you're in a great place to stop the disease from getting worse or delay its progress.
Doctors have a few treatment options up their sleeves during stage 1 of COPD. A short-acting bronchodilator is typically the first medication on the treatment scene. These inhalers will help alleviate your symptoms if and when they plague you, and will save you from scary moments during which you can't breathe well. They can include:
- Anticholinergics (ipratropium)
- Beta2-agonists (albuterol, levalbuterol, and others)
- A combination of several (such as albuterol and ipratropium)
Are you up to date on your flu and pneumonia vaccines?
COPD — in any of its stages — makes patients more vulnerable to respiratory infections. Vaccination therefore becomes especially important. Get your annual flu shot every year to reduce your risk of catching influenza greatly, and also stay up to date on your pneumococcal vaccinations. Both influenza and pneumonia can be extremely dangerous, so doing everything you can to prevent them is crucial.
If you smoke, stop it. Quitting will make you feel better and slow the progression of COPD, while continuing will speed it up and make you feel worse. You'll see this bit of advice everywhere and if you're still puffing away, that might bother you — but you'll definitely be aware that smoking damages the lungs (it probably gave you COPD to start with), makes breathing harder, and can lead to acute exacerbations. Make this a priority. Your body will thank you.
Avoid COPD triggers
People diagnosed with COPD will really benefit from going out of their ways to avoid exposure to lung irritants, pollutants, and any substance that can trigger and worsen their symptoms, such as:
- Indoor and outdoor pollution
- Perfume, cologne, and scented household and cosmetic products
Is there a 'COPD diet'?
Not as such. A healthy and balanced diet won't undo your COPD diagnosis, but it's definitely going to make you feel healthier and more energetic. This becomes more and more important as COPD progresses, since COPD sucks energy and calories as breathing becomes more labored. Consult your physician before you go on a new diet, but in general, try to get:
- Whole grains
- Lean protein
And stay away from:
- Junk food (fried and processed stuff, you know exactly what we're talking about!)
- Drinks that contain caffeine, lots of sugar, or alcohol
- Extremely spicy foods
- Nitrates (found in processed meats as well as leafy greens)
- Sulfites (found in things like dried fruits and lemon juice)
You might not feel like exercising because exerting yourself will make you feel out of breath, but keep in mind that a sedentary lifestyle will add unfitness to your already growing list of health problems. Exercise is, in fact, included in the pulmonary rehab programs that are so often recommended for COPD patients. This is because being physically active:
- Can delay the progression of your disease
- Boosts the strength of your respiratory muscles, making breathing easier
- Makes the way in which your body uses oxygen more efficient
- Can increase your energy
- Supports a healthy immune system
In Stage 1 of COPD, pretty much all kinds of exercises are suitable for you — but do ask your doctor how often you should work out, and for how long.