Complications

Though lung damage from COPD can't be reversed, quitting smoking and reducing your exposure to secondhand smoke and environmental and occupational pollutants can help you postpone or reduce the possibility of these complications:

Acute Exacerbations

This is a sudden acceleration of COPD symptoms most often caused by infections, pollution, or change in temperature. Coughing and mucus production increases, and wheezing and shortness of breath may intensify or become more noticeable. Exacerbations may happen only a few times per year, and they often resolve readily with medication. Their occurrence may increase as the diseases progresses. If exacerbations are extreme, respiratory failure can occur.

Heart Attack or Stroke

Studies have shown that worsening of COPD can lead to increased risk for heart attacks and ischemic strokes (blockage of blood to the brain), and the risk increases after a COPD exacerbation. Other related complications include right-sided heart failure, or cor pulmonale (heart swelling and heart failure due to chronic lung disease).

Respiratory Infections

Those with COPD are more likely to get frequent colds, the flu, or pneumonia, which results in even more difficulty breathing and further irreversible lung damage.

High Blood Pressure

COPD may cause high blood pressure (hypertension) in the arteries that bring blood to your lungs (pulmonary hypertension).

Lung Cancer

Smokers who don't have chronic bronchitis are at a lower risk of developing lung cancer than those smokers who do.

Pneumonia

This can be caused by bacterial infections, which can possibly lead to respiratory failure. Streptococcal pneumonia is the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia in patients with COPD.

Pneumothorax

Structural damage caused by COPD can lead to a collapsed lung, allowing air to leak into the chest cavity. Learn more about pneumothorax.

Depression

The emotional effects of living with COPD can also be challenging, because of diminished ability to be active and do things you enjoy. Coping with a progressive, incurable disease can lead to depression, and breathing problems can also create significant anxiety.

Other complications include irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias), need for breathing machine and oxygen therapy, severe weight loss and malnutrition, and sleep problems.