Recognizing Serious COPD Complications

Recognizing Serious COPD Complications

What Is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a collection of lung diseases that can lead to blocked airways. This can make it hard to breathe and causes coughing, wheezing, and mucus production. People with COPD can often develop other conditions and diseases related to COPD.

What Are the Complications Associated with COPD?

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For those dealing with COPD, every breath can be difficult. People with COPD can be at risk for some serious complications that can not only put their health in jeopardy, but can also be fatal. Here are a few of those complications, along with some tips for preventing them.

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In COPD patients, pneumonia occurs when bacteria enter the lungs, creating an infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bacterial pneumonia is the most common form of pneumonia in the United States, ranked evenly with influenza as the eighth leading cause of death in the country. The illness is especially dangerous for those with weakened immune systems, such as those who have COPD. For COPD patients, pneumonia can weaken the lungs. This can lead to a chain reaction of illnesses that can weaken the lungs even further. This downward spiral can lead to a rapid deterioration of health in COPD patients.

General overall health is key to preventing infections in COPD patients. Having as healthy an immune system as possible can help you better fight off infections. Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, can help COPD patients maintain healthy bronchioles. Healthy bronchioles can help prevent bacteria from developing. Consistent hand washing can also help reduce your risk of infection. You may also want to avoid contact with those you know are ill, and discourage sick friends and family from visiting your home.

COPD Heart Failure

One of the most critical complications of COPD is heart failure. Because COPD patients have lower levels of oxygen in their bloodstream, the heart will often suffer. According to the American Thoracic Society, this can result in severe pulmonary hypertension in a small percentage of patients (less than 10 percent). For many patients, treating COPD can help prevent the disease from progressing to the point where it causes heart failure. Unfortunately, because many of the symptoms of heart failure can be the same as those of COPD, it may be difficult for patients to recognize that they are having heart issues until it’s too late.

The first step to preventing heart failure is to stop the progression of COPD. To do this, engage in mild to moderate physical activity to build up lung strength. Stick to your COPD treatment plan as directed by your doctor. Giving up smoking as soon as possible is essential to preventing progression of the disease.

Lung Cancer

Since COPD often can be attributed to smoking, it’s not surprising that patients with COPD often develop lung cancer. However, researchers have actually pinpointed a connection between COPD and lung cancer regardless of a patient’s smoking history. In lung cancer, a pollutant damages cells, which most often enters the body through cigarette smoke or environmental inhalants. Since lung cancer is often fatal, it’s important that COPD patients remove factors that damage the lungs, especially smoking.


COPD doesn’t cause diabetes, but it can make it harder to battle the difficult symptoms of diabetes. One of the primary complications of having both COPD and diabetes is harmful interactions of COPD medications and diabetes medications. People with diabetes and COPD may find their symptoms worsened because diabetes can also restrict a patient’s lungs.

Smoking can worsen symptoms in both diabetes and COPD. It’s imperative to stop smoking as soon as possible. Learning to manage your blood sugar, usually with the help of your doctor, can help keep COPD symptoms from becoming overwhelming. Work with your doctor to ensure that the medications they prescribe won’t have adverse interactions. This can alleviate the most dangerous part of managing two diseases at once.


The gradual mental decline of many severe COPD patients can be tough on loved ones. Dementia is especially prevalent in older COPD sufferers, making managing symptoms even more difficult for these patients. Consequently, patients with dementia may find that their condition deteriorates at a quicker pace than COPD patients without dementia. Maintaining a healthy body weight and cholesterol level can help prevent dementia. Also, keep your mind sharp by regularly engaging in mentally stimulating activities. Crossword puzzles and games have been found to help engage the mind.

End Stages of COPD

For some patients, COPD will eventually result in death. Chronic lower respiratory disease, primarily COPD, was the third leading cause of death in the United States in 2013, with smoking cited as the cause of COPD in most of the cases. Unfortunately, doctors are usually unable to give a clear prognosis after a person receives a COPD diagnosis. Some patients live six months, while others live for years. A person’s age at the time of diagnosis weighs heavily into life expectancy. Those with moderate to severe COPD will usually have reduced life expectancy despite their age.

Respiratory failure is the most common COPD-related cause of death. After months, years, or even decades of struggling with lung problems, the patient’s lungs eventually stop working. Heart failure is also a factor for COPD fatalities, with COPD often contributing to heart problems. Other patients may have lung infections or lung cancer.

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?


COPD doesn’t have to be fatal. Knowing the causes and understanding how to prevent the disease from getting worse are keys to staying healthy and enjoying a long life.

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