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COPD and other health problems

If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you are more likely to have other health problems, too. These are called co-morbidities. People with COPD tend to have more health problems than people who don’t have COPD.

Having other health problems can affect your symptoms and treatments. You may need to visit your doctor more often. You also may need to have more tests or treatments.

Having COPD is a lot to manage. But try to stay positive. You can protect your health by understanding why you are at risk for certain conditions and learning how to prevent them.

Other health problems you may have

If you have COPD, you are more likely to have:

  • Repeat infections, such as pneumonia. COPD increases your risk of colds, the flu, and hospital stays due to lung infection.
  • High blood pressure in the lungs. COPD may cause high blood pressure in the arteries that bring blood to your lungs. This is called pulmonary hypertension.
  • Heart disease. COPD increases your risk of heart attack, heart failure, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, and blood clots.
  • Diabetes . Having COPD increases this risk. Also, some COPD medicines can cause high blood sugar.
  • Osteoporosis (weak bones). People with COPD often have low levels of vitamin D, are inactive, and smoke. These factors increase your risk of bone loss and weak bones. Certain COPD medicines also may cause bone loss.
  • Depression and anxiety . It's common for people with COPD to feel depressed or anxious. Being breathless can cause anxiety. Plus, having symptoms slows you down so you can't do as much as you used to.
  • Heartburn and GERD . Gastroesophageal reflux disease and heartburn can lead to more COPD symptoms and flare-ups.
  • Lung cancer. Continuing to smoke increases this risk.

Why people with COPD often have other health problems is not always clear.

  • Smoking is one of the biggest culprits. Smoking is a risk factor for most of the problems above.
  • COPD usually develops in middle age. And people tend to have more health problems as they age.
  • COPD makes it hard to breathe, which can make it hard to get enough exercise. Being inactive can lead to bone and muscle loss and increase your risk for other health problems.
  • Certain COPD medicines can increase your risk of other conditions such as bone loss, heart conditions, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Staying healthy with COPD

Work closely with your doctor to keep COPD and other medical problems under control. Taking the following steps can also help protect your health:

  • Take medicines and treatments as directed.
  • If you smoke, quit. Also avoid second-hand smoke. Avoiding smoke is the best way to slow down damage to your lungs. Ask your doctor about stop-smoking programs and other options, such as nicotine replacement therapy.
  • Discuss the risks and side effects of your medicines with your doctor. There may be better options available or things you can do to reduce or offset the harms. Tell your doctor if you notice any side effects.
  • Have yearly flu and pneumonia vaccines to help guard against infections. Wash your hands often. Stay away from people with colds or other infections.
  • Stay as active as possible. Try short walks and gentle weight training. Talk with your doctor about ways to get exercise.
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in lean proteins, fish, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Eating several small healthy meals a day can give you the nutrients you need without feeling bloated. An overfull belly can make it hard to breathe.
  • Talk with your doctor if you feel sad, helpless, or worried. There are programs and medicines that can help you feel more positive and hopeful.

Remember that you're not alone. Your doctor will work with you to help you stay healthy and as active as possible.

When to call your doctor

You should call your doctor when:

  • You have new signs or symptoms that concern you.
  • You are having trouble managing one or more of your health conditions.
  • You have concerns about your health problems and treatments.
  • You feel hopeless, sad, or anxious.
  • You notice medicine side effects that bother you.

References

Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD). Global strategy for the diagnosis, management, and prevention of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Vancouver (WA): Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD); 2013.

Panetta NL, Krachman S, Chatila WM. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and its comorbidities. Panminerva Med. 2009;51(2):115-23.

Patel AR, Hurst JR.Extrapulmonary comorbidities in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: state of the art. Expert Rev Respir Med. 2011;5(5):647-62.

Qaseem A, Wilt TJ, Weinberger SE, Hanania NA, Criner G, van der Molen T, et al. Diagnosis and Management of Stable Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: A Clinical Practice Guideline Update from the American College of Physicians, American College of Chest Physicians, American Thoracic Society, and European Respiratory Society. Ann Intern Med. 2011;155(3):179-191.

Update Date: 2/8/2014

Updated by: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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