Graduate School of Nursing Dissertations

Publication Date


Document Type

Dissertation, Doctoral


Graduate School of Nursing

Dissertation Committee Chair

Carol Bova


Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Disease Progression, Patients, Symptom Assessment, Patient Acceptance of Health Care, Self Care

Subject Categories

Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms | Health Services Administration | Nursing | Respiratory Tract Diseases


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a major health problem in the United States. Acute exacerbations of COPD are primarily responsible for the physical, psychological and economic burden of this disease. Early identification and treatment of exacerbations is important to improve patient and healthcare outcomes. Little is known about how patients with COPD recognize an impending exacerbation and subsequently decide to seek treatment. The purpose of this qualitative descriptive study was to explore and describe symptom recognition and treatment delay in individuals experiencing an acute exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Leventhal’s Common Sense Model of illness representation undergirded this study. Using semi-structured interviews, adults hospitalized with an acute exacerbation of COPD were asked to describe their symptom experience and self care behaviors, including treatment seeking, in the days to weeks prior to hospitalization. Data analysis revealed one main theme: Recognizing, responding and reacting to change, and six subthemes: Something’s coming, Here we go again, Seeking urgent treatment, Riding it out, Not in charge anymore and My last day that richly described the COPD exacerbation experience. The study revealed that patients experience an illness prodrome prior to exacerbation and have a recurrent exacerbation symptom pattern that was self-recognized. Treatment seeking was most influenced by the speed and acuity of exacerbation onset, severity of breathlessness, fears of death, nature of patient-provider relationship and the perception of stigmatization during prior healthcare encounters. These findings are important for the development of interventions to improve patient recognition and management of COPD exacerbations in the future.


Copyright by Elizabeth Danells Chin 2012 All Rights Reserved



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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.