BACKGROUND: Prompt treatment of acute exacerbations (AEs) in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) improves quality of life and reduces the use of health care resources. Although patient self-management through an individualized action plan (AP) can help with early initiation of therapy, its use is critically dependent on the patient recognizing the features of an exacerbation.
OBJECTIVE: To describe COPD patients’ experiences with AEs, as well as health care professionals’ (HCPs’) attitudes toward the provision of an AP as part of self-management education.
METHODS: Thirty-two patients with moderate to severe COPD who recently experienced at least one AE, and 22 HCPs with experience in the management of COPD, were interviewed.
RESULTS: The most common symptoms and signs associated with an AE were difficulty breathing (84%), fatigue (81%), cold symptoms (59%), changes in sputum colour (53%) or amount (47%), and cough (44%). The main precipitants identified were environmental triggers (47%), infective agents (31%), excessive activities (25%), emotional factors (16%) and changes in medications (9%). Strategies for dyspnea relief included increasing medications (72%), resting (56%), avoiding exposure to environmental triggers (41%) and performing breathing exercises (31%). Patients supported the use of an AP and recommended that it be individualized for symptoms and triggers, and that it should also include strategies for addressing anxiety and depression. HCPs also supported the use of an individualized AP and recommended that it be regularly revisited, depending on the patient’s disease severity.
CONCLUSIONS: Patients’ experiences with AEs do not always conform to a standard medical definition. Therefore, an understanding of their experience is of value in the design of an individualized AP. HCPs support the use of an AP that emphasizes self-management of exacerbations as well as general COPD management.