Health Conditions That Mimic COPD

COPD is a chronic health condition with its own causes, triggers, and symptoms. But did you know that there are other serious health conditions that look like or mimic COPD? It’s true! These conditions resemble COPD, but aren’t actually COPD. This is because they cause respiratory symptoms similar to COPD.

You should know about these conditions for a number of reasons. The most important being, they contribute to misdiagnoses. And that contributes to incorrect treatment and poorly controlled COPD.


The first condition is asthma. In fact, asthma is the most common condition to mimic COPD. We discussed the relationship between both conditions. Here’s a summary. They’re both respiratory conditions. And they have similar symptoms. It’s possible to have asthma and COPD. This is called the asthma-COPD overlap.

Asthma Symptoms:
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain or chest tightness
  • Coughing

Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure, commonly referred to as “CHF,” is another serious health condition that is known to mimic COPD. CHF is a heart condition. Actually, it’s a complex condition that is caused by different conditions. The short of it is that it happens when there’s functional or structural damage to your heart. As the result, your heart can’t pump blood as well it should.

Different medications are used to treat, manage, and improve your CHF symptoms. In some cases medication cannot manage or improve your symptoms. Medical devices are used in these cases. This is usually reserved for more cases where there’s risk of sudden heart failure.

CHF Symptoms:
  • Shortness of breath at rest of exertion
  • Difficult or labored breathing
  • Heart palpitations
  • Abdominal problems, include distention
  • Fatigue
  • Edema, or swelling

Tuberculosis (TB)

Tuberculosis, or “TB,” is another health condition that can mimic COPD. It’s an infectious disease. But it isn’t new. In fact, it’s been around for thousands of years. And that’s no exaggeration. TB is the leading cause of death in developing countries. This doesn’t mean that it’s only a threat to those countries. TB is the number one infectious disease cause of death in the entire world! That’s a startling statistic, isn’t it? Let’s take a few steps back and talk a bit more about this condition.

What Is TB?

TB is a chronic disease that’s caused by a very specific bacteria ⎯ Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB is highly contagious. But only if you’re symptomatic. People without symptoms are considered infectious. But they don’t have the TB disease. It spreads from person-to-person through the air, similar to COVID-19. TB is like asthma and COPD by that it’s chronic. By that it means once you have it, it doesn’t go away. It can be treated and managed. We’ll get into that in a bit. TB mainly affects your lungs. But it’s possible for it to affect other parts of your body. Like your brain, spine, and even your kidneys.

Preventing And Treating TB

There are ways to prevent and manage TB. First, prevention. How can you protect yourself from a contagious, airborne disease? Medications and vaccines! Medications to prevent TB are usually reserved for at-risk populations. These include the immunocompromised, the elderly, and babies and young children. Vaccines are another option. They reduce your risk of becoming infected. But they’re not a guaranteed solution. That is to say, you can still become infected. So what happens once infected?

You’re given a short course of a treatment medication. It doesn’t matter if you have a TB infection or the disease. Both groups receive treatment. But why? Asymptomatic people can’t infect people. So why do they need medication? An untreated infection can develop into a disease. And a person with the disease is contagious and can infect others! Treatment stops the harmful bacteria from multiplying. Additionally, treatment can help manage your symptoms.

TB Symptoms:
  • Chronic cough that lasts 3 or more weeks
  • A productive cough with blood or a mixture of saliva and mucus
  • Chest pain
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Fever
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Night sweats

Pulmonary Embolism

Pulmonary embolism is another condition that is known to mimic COPD. It’s a condition that’s caused by a blockage of one or more of the arteries in your lungs. The blockage is caused by a blood clot. Blood clots travel. In the case of a pulmonary embolism, blood clots usually start in your legs, travel throughout your body, and block an artery. Your arteries carry oxygen and blood to different parts of your body.

The good news is that pulmonary embolisms can be prevented. You do that by stopping the blood clot from forming. First, are medications. Medications, like blood thinners, stop blood clots from happening in the first place. Next, remain active. Physical activity/movement keeps your blood circulating. This stops blood clots from forming. Finally, wear compression stockings. Compression stockings help your body move blood throughout different parts of your body.

Symptoms of a Pulmonary Embolism:
  • Shortness of breath
  • Labored or difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Leg pain or swelling
  • Death if detected too late

Cardiac Arrhythmia

Finally, cardiac arrhythmia is a common COPD mimicker. It’s similar to CHF. By that they’re both heart conditions. And they’re both caused by multiple conditions. That is to say, there isn’t a single cause. However, that’s where the similarity stops. Cardiac arrhythmia is a condition that affects your heart’s rate and rhythm. With this condition your heart beats too quickly, too slowly, or irregularly.

Managing Cardiac Arrhythmias

Treatment for a cardiac arrhythmia varies. And it depends on the type and severity of your arrhythmia. Lifestyle changes are beneficial. But sometimes they aren’t enough. Medications (drugs) help regulate your heartbeat, prevent irregular heartbeats, and thin your blood to prevent blood clots. (Blood clots cause serious health risks. Like heart attacks and strokes).

In more severe cases medical devices like pacemakers and defibrillators are used. They’re different devices, but have similar purposes. Pacemakers pay close attention to the rhythm or your heart beats. When there’s an abnormal pattern, the pacemaker sends an electrical pulse to your heart. This causes your heart to speed up or slow down. Defibrillators also pay attention to your heart’s rhythm. It shocks your heart when it beats in an irregular or dangerous rhythm. Devices are lifesavers for those who need them! Finally, heart surgery is an option. However, only for cases that don’t benefit from lifestyle changes, medications, or devices.

Cardiac Arrhythmia Symptoms:
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or chest discomfort
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dizziness or feeling lightheaded
  • Weakness or fatigue