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Ask Jennifer: Week ending 10/19

Posted at: 07/18/2008 3:32 PM
Updated at: 10/06/2014 11:45 AM

Dear Jennifer,

I take care of my Aunt. I check in on her twice a week. I get her groceries and take her to the doctor. She has COPD and CHF. I ask her how she’s doing and she says fine. She always says she’s fine. Then she calls in the middle of the night to say she needs an ambulance because she’s having trouble breathing. The doctors at the hospital said her lungs are full of fluid and it’s been building up for a while. This has been a pattern. Why won’t she tell me she’s having trouble before it’s an emergency? She’s always been stubborn, but this is ridiculous. Is there some other way to know she’s building up fluid in her lungs if she won’t tell me?  I’m getting to the end of my rope.

Sincere Thanks,
Marie

Dear Marie,

Your Aunt may not be aware that her lungs are filling. It is common for COPD folks to be fully unaware of breathing problems that creep up on them. So, what can you do?
1. If she hasn’t seen a “lung doctor” she should. Ask her doctor for a referral to a pulmonologist.
2. Routine blood work can determine her fluid balance and provide a clue. Some doctors use a BNP blood test to monitor this.
3. Ankle edema reflects “extra fluid” in the body and if it is excessive, so is the extra fluid.
4. Weekly weights help reflect extra fluid.
5. Someone who has to gasp for breath between words of a sentence (and does not do this routinely) should be seen by a doctor immediately.
6. Blood pressure readings can reflect problems; get guidance from her doctor.
7. Oxygen saturation readings show problems getting oxygen. This device is available at medical supply stores. Again, ask the doctor for guidance.
8. A Home Care Nurse can help monitor your mom. If her insurance will cover these visits, it will be for a limited time. This nurse can help train you on what to look for if you can be there when she is visiting.

Good Luck!
Warmly,
Jennifer