How is COPD diagnosed and treated?
COPD diagnosis & treatment

COPD diagnosis and treatment


How is COPD diagnosed?

Your doctor will diagnose COPD based on your symptoms and medical history.1 The main test for diagnosing COPD is a lung function test called spirometry. The doctor will ask you to blow into a tube, and the test will measure the volume and pressure of air you breathe out. You may also need to have an X-ray or CT scan to detect emphysema, rule out other lung problems or heart failure, determine if you might benefit from surgery, and to screen for lung cancer.

If your symptoms are more severe, you may need a blood test to analyze the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your bloodstream.

How is COPD treated?

Although there is no cure for COPD at the moment, there are treatments available.

Recommended treatments may include:

  1. Quitting smoking. If you smoke, is the first step to slowing the progression of the disease.2
  2. Medications. These can help you manage your symptoms, and reduce the frequency and severity of exacerbations.2 Some patients also benefit from oxygen therapy.
  3. Exercise and education. A program combining exercise with education about COPD  will also help you manage your COPD.3
  4. Nutritional changes. For some people with COPD, adjusting the ratio of fats to carbohydrates in the diet can help them to breathe easier.4

In addition, it is critical for COPD patients to safeguard against infections that could affect their already-weakened respiratory system. To that end, it is recommended that you wash your hands regularly, and that you wear an air mask on airplanes or in densely populated areas to avoid breathing in airborne germs and other potentially harmful pathogens.

Can non-invasive ventilation help?

Because COPD affects your ability to breathe properly,this leads to two main problems:

  1. Preventing enough oxygen from reaching your bloodstream
  2. Not allowing enough carbon dioxide to be exhaled from your body 

Oxygen therapy can address problem #1 (the low oxygen levels), but it does not reduce high carbon dioxide levels (known as hypercapnia).

Non-invasive ventilation therapy (pressured room air delivered to your lungs via a mask and machine) can help you reduce carbon dioxide levels if you have hypercapnia – all in the comfort and convenience of your own home.

Home NIV has been shown to:

  • Improve mortality in patients with COPD by 76%;5
  • Reduce recurrence of acute hypercapnic respiratory failure following an initial event by up to two-thirds in the first 30 days following the event;6 and
  • Lead to a better quality of life.7,8

Depending on the severity and type of your symptoms, such as shortness of breath or morning headaches, your doctor may prescribe NIV.

It involves delivering pressured room air through a ventilator to your lungs via a mask.

ResMed provides non-invasive ventilators that, may be suitable for people with hypercapnia. Learn more about ResMed’s lightweight ventilators that can help patients with COPD breathe more efficiently.5


  1. How is COPD diagnosed? National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. How is COPD diagnosed? (accessed October 20, 2015).
  2. Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease. Global strategy for the diagnosis, management, and prevention of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. (accessed October 20, 2015).
  3. COPD Foundation. What is pulmonary rehabilitation?‐More/Pulmonary‐Rehabilitation/What‐is‐Pulmonary‐Rehabilitation.aspx (accessed October 20, 2015).
  4. American Lung Association. Lung Health & Diseases: Nutrition. (accessed November 3, 2015).
  5. Köhnlein T et al. Non‐invasive positive pressure ventilation for the treatment of severe, stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a prospective, multicentre, randomised, controlled clinical trial. Lancet Resp Med 2014;2(9):698–705.
  6. Cheung AP et al. A pilot trial of non-invasive home ventilation after acidotic respiratory failure in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Int J Tuberc Lung Dis 2010;14(5):642–9.
  7. Tsolaki V et al. One-year non-invasive ventilation in chronic hypercapnic COPD: Effect on quality of life. Respir Med 2008;102(6):904–11.
  8. Duiverman ML et al. Two-year home-based nocturnal noninvasive ventilation added to rehabilitation in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients: A randomized controlled trial. Respir Res 2011;12(112).