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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Even though COPD isn’t curable, finding the right combination of treatments from the right specialists can greatly improve your quality of life.

There are many medicines and other therapies that can help you live better with COPD. But it takes an experienced provider to know which ones will work best to control your symptoms.
VCU Health is home to pulmonologists with advanced training in COPD care. Not only can we distinguish COPD from other lung diseases with similar symptoms, but we also offer advanced treatments that aren’t widely available.

Not matter what type of COPD you have, or how long you’ve had it, we can help you breathe more easily—so you feel (and function) better.

About COPD

The term "chronic obstructive pulmonary disease" refers to a group of conditions that make it hard for air to flow through your lungs. The most common types of COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

In most cases, COPD is caused by smoking. However, some people develop it after chronic exposure to air pollutants, workplace chemicals or secondhand smoke. In rare cases, COPD is caused by genetic conditions such as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.

All types of COPD are progressive, meaning they get worse over time—especially if you don’t receive proper care. People with COPD are also prone to flare-ups, meaning your symptoms suddenly get worse. During a flare-up, which can last several days, you may need additional medicine or even hospital care.

COPD Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of COPD may mimic other, less serious conditions that are easy to brush off. But with COPD, symptoms usually don’t show up until your lungs are seriously damaged.

To that end, it’s important to see your doctor (or ask for a referral to a pulmonologist) if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Chest tightness
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Low energy
  • Persistent cough, especially if the cough produces mucus
  • Shortness of breath, especially during movement
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Wheezing (a whistling or squeaking noise that occurs when you breathe)

A pulmonologist can confirm whether you have COPD by using one or more of these tests:

  • Breathing tests (pulmonary function tests) that measure your lung health. These include spirometry and fractional exhaled nitric oxide (feNO) testing.
  • Imaging tests such as lung CT scans or lung X-rays. These tests help us rule out other conditions, such as lung cancer, and can show us the severity of your COPD.

COPD Treatments We Offer

We offer the full range of nonsurgical and surgical treatments to treat your symptoms and reduce or prevent flare-ups.

Depending on the type of COPD you have, and the severity of your symptoms, your treatment plan may include:

  • Smoking cessation. If you’re a smoker, quitting smoking is the best way to slow the progression of COPD. If you need help quitting, we can refer you to a smoking cessation program.
  • Vaccination. People with COPD have a higher risk of getting—and developing complications from—certain respiratory conditions. You can lower your risk by staying up-to-date with your pneumonia, influenza and COVID-19 vaccinations.
  • Medications. Certain oral and inhaled prescription medicines can help you breathe better. These include steroids to reduce lung inflammation, antibiotics to fight respiratory infections and bronchodilators that open your airways.
  • Home oxygen therapy. If you frequently experience low blood oxygen levels, we can prescribe supplemental oxygen therapy. You’ll receive a tank of oxygen delivered to your home. You can breathe in this oxygen as needed through a face mask or cannula (tubes that you place just inside your nostrils).
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation. We offer a supervised exercise and education program for people with COPD and other chronic lung diseases. You’ll learn how to exercise safely, strategies to you improve your breathing and techniques to conserve your energy,
  • Surgery. If your COPD is severe, you may need surgery. We offer procedures to remove some damaged parts of your lung (lung volume reduction surgery) or to help the healthy parts of your lung work better (endobronchial valve placement).

A Team Approach to COPD Care

Although COPD can worsen over time, it’s still possible to control your current symptoms and slow the progression of your disease. The best way to do this is by seeking care from top medical centers—like VCU Health—that offer team-based care.

As our patient, you have access to a wide range of specialists who can help diagnose and treat your condition. These include:

  • Cardiothoracic surgeons who perform certain types of chest surgery, including lung volume reduction surgery.
  • Interventional pulmonologists who perform minimally invasive diagnostic procedures and treatments. We use special tools and technology to see inside (or gain access to) your lungs without cutting open your chest.
  • Pulmonary nurse specialists who can answer your questions about symptoms, self-care and more.
  • Pulmonologists who oversee your treatment plan and help you maintain the best possible lung health.
  • Radiologists who specialize in chest CT scans and other imaging procedures used to diagnose lung disease.
  • Registered dietitians who help ensure you’re getting the right amount of calories and nutrition.
  • Research coordinators who can help you enroll in clinical trials, such as studies that let you try new COPD medication.
  • Respiratory therapists and pulmonary rehabilitation specialists who can teach you breathing techniques and help coordinate home oxygen therapy.
  • Social workers who can connect you with resources such as COPD support groups and financial counseling.

Why Choose VCU Health for COPD Care

Patients with COPD rely on our team to stay active and prevent symptom flare-ups. We’re known for offering:

  • Innovative new COPD treatments. We’re one of the few medical centers in the nation that offers endobronchial valve placement (also known as bronchoscopic lung volume reduction). During this minimally invasive procedure, we place tiny, one-way valves into certain airways inside your lungs. These valves direct air away from the damaged parts of your lung, allowing the healthy parts to take over. This treatment is a safe, effective option for certain people who can’t have traditional lung surgery.
  • Pioneering research. Our pulmonologists are also researchers who aim to find new and better ways to prevent or treat lung disease. Because we often lead clinical trials to test new medications or surgical techniques, our patients are often among the first in Virginia to try promising new COPD treatments.
  • Multispecialty care. Many people with COPD have other health problems, too. These include heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and depression. If you need help treating other medical conditions, our pulmonologists can refer you to other VCU Health Specialists. We’ll work together to keep you as healthy as possible

2023-2024 US News & World Report High Performing Hospitals for COPD badge

Contact Us

Make an Appointment

To schedule a first-time consultation or follow-up appointment, please call (804) 828-2161.

Refer Your Patient

We appreciate the opportunity to help you care for your patients with COPD. We frequently work with patients and providers from the state of Virginia and beyond.

To refer a patient for further evaluation or treatment, please call (804) 828-2161.

Our Providers

Farrukh Abbas, MD

Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine

Lisa Brath, MD

Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine

Alpha A Fowler, MD

Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine

Catherine E Grossman, MD

Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine

John Heard Jr, AGACNP

Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine

Michael L'Heureux, MD

Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine

Alyssa McKee, AGACNP

Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine

James O'Connor, MD

Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine

Sammy Pedram, MD

Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine

Dikshya Sharma, MD

Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine