Dear COPD Coach,
I have stage 4 emphysema. It is impossible to eat without immediately feeling chest tightness or bloated like I am about to explode. I read about how the diaphragm gets pushed by the stomach and how it changes shape as COPD worsens. Does this mean that eventually I won’t be able to eat?
Thanks for writing. As a patient myself at stage 4, I also experience this. The mechanism you described is exactly correct! To answer your question, you will always be able to eat, however you are going to have to eat a little differently. As you lungs deteriorate, they become larger which then pushes against your stomach. When you eat large meals, your stomach pushes against your lungs and diaphragm which restricts your breathing. The key here is not to eat large meals or large portions, but instead eat smaller meals throughout the day. Also do not eat foods thatcan cause bloating or gas. Drinking plenty of water during the meals will also help ease the bloating. If you use supplemental oxygen, make sure you use it while you eat.
When my wife and I go out to dinner, I tend to eat too much and have a difficult time returning to the car. I have since learned to order smaller portions, especially if I have to walk a long distance after the meal. I also make sure to eat throughout the day, several times a day, even if it is just a light snack. When I do this, I feel far less bloated.
For information on what is best to eat, go to the COPD Foundation’s Big Fat Reference Guide webpage. It is a free download and contains lots of information written for the patient. There you will find a list of the best foods along with lots of other useful lifestyle tips.
It is important to remember that when you eat large meals, you burn lots of calories in order to digest. You also burn calories just trying to breathe! So, the foods you eat must contain not only enough calories to augment what you are using up. In other words, learn to eat smart!
While you are on our website, you might want to check out our new social network called COPD360social. It is a site where you can meet others with COPD and see what works for them! Just click on community and registration is quick and simple!
Hope this helps,
-The COPD Coach
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.
If you would like to submit a question to the Coaches Corner email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear your questions and comments. You can address your emails to any of the following: COPD Coach, Caregiver Coach, COPD Doctor or COPD RT.