Dear COPD Coach,
When I get out of breath, I have to go to the bathroom RIGHT NOW! Why does this happen and what can I do about it?
–Breathlessness and Bathroom, Pennsylvania
Dear Breathlessness and Bathroom,
Many of us have shared that feeling with you, and most folks don’t talk much about it.
First of all, it’s important to note that anytime you experience a change in your health or a problem such as this, you should talk with your primary health care professional. It could be related to a urinary or bowel issue that should be addressed without delay.
However, if problems related to your urinary and bowel systems have been ruled out, this is an issue that might be related to your oxygen saturation and not merely to shortness of breath. It happens to me when my saturations get into the mid 70’s or lower. What is really happening is that your body is going into defense mode. All of the organs in your body require oxygen to function at their best. The body is pretty smart about this, actually. When your body is not getting enough oxygen, it gets its priorities in order, protecting those organs in charge of the most vital functions–the brain, heart and lungs. The less vital things like the bowel and bladder are the first to feel this effect and it is pretty easy to have an accident under those circumstances.
The first advice, of course, is to use a pulse oximeter to keep track of your oxygen saturation. If you begin to feel short of breath, sit down and begin to breathe calmly and slowly. Try to relax your shoulders and concentrate on steady breathing, smell the roses, gently blow out the candles. As your oxygen saturation improves, the sense of urgency to go to the bathroom should calm down as well. When you’ve fully recovered your saturation level, slowly get up and get to a bathroom at a walk not a run.
Many people I know wear pads or incontinence briefs when they are going out and may find themselves short of breath or far from the restroom. Just think of it as putting on an insurance policy. If this is happening to you often, it may signal a need for supplemental oxygen, or if you are already on oxygen, the need to increase your liter flow.
Again, it’s vital that your health care professional checks for any problems such as urinary tract infection or such that may cause problems with your “plumbing!” Then, after those have been ruled out, make sure you talk with your doctor or respiratory therapist about suggestions and limits having to do with oxygen levels and urgency
Remember too, that most of us can get out there and enjoy life but at a slower pace than we used to.
Ask the Expert is aimed at providing information for individuals with COPD to take to your doctor, and is not in any way intended to be medical advice.