Comorbid Conditions And Your COPD

Many people with COPD have comorbid conditions. We call these comorbidities. Comorbidities are chronic conditions that you have along with your COPD. Most of you have 1-2 other comorbidities. However, a few of you have 3 or more comorbidities. It’s rare to have no other health conditions. It does happen. But, it’s unusual. Let’s talk about the most common comorbid conditions.

Comorbidity #1: Respiratory Infections

First, are respiratory infections. COPD makes your airways and lungs inflame. As a result, your lungs don’t work properly. So, you’re much more likely to get different infections. Respiratory infections are the most common infection you get. In fact, you get them so often that they become frequent or recurrent.

There’s a relationship between respiratory infections and COPD. Infections make your COPD worse. Mainly, it makes your symptoms a little harder to manage. But, COPD also makes respiratory infections worse for you. Why does this happen? Respiratory infections affect the same systems and structures as COPD. That is to say, your nose, your throat, and your lungs. Your COPD already damages them. So, you’re more susceptible to serious complications.

Managing Respiratory Infections:
  • Use decongestants
  • Take medications for fever and pain
  • Take anti-inflammatory medicines

Comorbidity #2: Cardiovascular Diseases

Next, are cardiovascular diseases or CVDs. Before we talk about how they affect your COPD, let’s talk about what they are. CVD is an umbrella term that describes diseases or conditions that affect your heart and blood vessels. For instance, stroke, heart attack, and heart failure are CVDs. Each condition has a different cause. For the sake of time, we won’t go into detail. But, just know structures that carry blood, oxygen, and nutrients throughout your body.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about CVDs and COPD. CVDs are the most common comorbid condition. Likely because they’re associated with higher risks of death. Let us be clear, the risk of death is high with both conditions. But together, they’re higher. You’re probably wondering, why does it happen in the first place? COPD is a systemic condition. This means that it affects more than one of your systems. So, it is a lung disease. But, it also affects your heart and blood vessels.

Some CVDs are more common than others. For instance, heart disease, heart failure, stroke, and irregular heartbeat are extremely common in people with COPD. Everyone isn’t at risk. You’re at risk if you meet one of the four criteria. One, if you have a diagnosis of COPD. Two, if you’re older. Three, if you’re over weight or have a higher BMI. Finally, if you have severe airway limitation/airway obstruction.

Managing CVDs:
  • Treatment based on your condition
  • Take your medication daily

Comorbidity #3: Diabetes

Then, there is diabetes. Diabetes is a condition where your body makes too much blood sugar. You’re probably wondering what this has to do with COPD. What makes it a comorbid condition? A number of things. First, COPD doesn’t cause diabetes. However, people with COPD can have diabetes as well. In fact, diabetes seems more common in people with COPD than without. Next, we know that smoking increases your risk of developing COPD. But did you also know that smoking is a risk factor for diabetes? How or why does this happen? Your lungs. Indeed, poor lung function increases your risk for diabetes. The good news is that this risk is low. Diabetes appears to be more common in severe or very severe cases of COPD. So, while it’s possible to have COPD and diabetes, most of you won’t.

Managing Diabetes:
  • Treatment options vary depending on whether you have Type I or Type II diabetes
  • Take your medication daily
  • Manage your stress levels
  • Eat a diet with foods that are low in sugar, salt, and calories
  • Live an active lifestyle. We recommend some sort of physical movement daily and simple muscle strengthening exercises 2-3 times per week

Comorbidity #4: Muscle Weakness

Next, is muscle weakness. People with COPD have bone and muscle weakness. Bone weakness doesn’t always happen. That is to say, everyone doesn’t have this problem. But, there’s risk because of your COPD. Everyone with COPD isn’t at risk. However, some of you are. Who are these people? Older men who are heavy smokers. This puts you at risk for bone breaks, fractures, and bone conditions.

COPD is a systemic condition. True, it causes inflammation in your lungs. But, it doesn’t stop at your lungs or respiratory system. COPD makes your muscles weak. Also, you lose muscle and fat. Finally, your muscles fatigue. This means that you may not physically be able to do much. COPD is the number one cause of your muscle weakness. But, it’s not the only cause. In fact, it’s a side effect of one of your medications. Namely, glucocorticoids.

Managing Muscular Conditions:
  • Use supplements to strengthen your bones. For instance, calcium and vitamin D
  • Lung surgery, if necessary
  • Avoid corticosteroids if you can
  • Stay active

Comorbidity #5: Pneumonia

Then, there’s pneumonia. Pneumonia is a condition that’s caused by inflammation of your lungs. Does that sound familiar? It should! It’s often caused by some sort of infection. Pneumonia looks a lot like COPD. For instance, there’s a persistent cough, shortness of breath, and trouble catching your breath. This means a few things. First, it’s possible to misdiagnose your condition. Next, your symptoms may be harder to manage.

Pneumonia is more common in people with COPD than without. Why exactly does this happen? Chronic lung conditions damage your lungs. Therefore, you’re more susceptible to having pneumonia. Your lungs are already weakened by your COPD. As the result, it’s easier for you to get infections. Hence, the chronic bronchitis or recurrent infections.

Managing Pneumonia:
  • Antibiotics, if the infection is bacterial
  • Viral medications for viral infections
  • Inhaled steroids for your COPD
  • Admission to the ICU in severe cases
  • Ventilation in severe cases

Comorbidity #6: Lung Cancer

Lastly, is lung cancer. Are you surprised to learn that it’s a comorbid condition? You shouldn’t be! Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. That isn’t to say they’re the only ones who develop lung cancer. That just isn’t true. However, their risk of developing lung cancer is greater than non-smokers. Do you know what else smoking contributes to? Your risk of developing COPD. You see, smoking is the common denominator.

These cells have an important job. As a matter of fact, they line your airways. And, they keep your lungs lubricated. Lung cancers damage the cells in your lungs. So, when you have cancer, your cells don’t work as they should. The more you smoke, the more you damage these cells. The solution? It’s simple. Stop smoking, if you’re an active smoker. And, avoid secondhand smoke.