Recognizing Serious Complications

For those dealing with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), every breath can be difficult. COPD sufferers 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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Pneumonia and COPD

In COPD patients, pneumonia occurs when bacteria enters the lungs, creating an infection. Bacterial pneumonia is the most common form of pneumonia in the U.S., ranked 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 suffering from COPD. For COPD patients, pneumonia can weaken the lungs, which 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 once they are present. Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, can help COPD patients maintain healthy bronchioles, which, in turn, 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 and 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, resulting in severe pulmonary hypertension in a small percentage of patients (less than ten 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 they are having heart issues until it’s too late.

To help prevent heart failure, the first step is to prevent COPD from progressing. This can be achieved by engaging in mild to moderate physical activity in order to build up lung strength, as well as sticking to your COPD treatment plan as directed by your healthcare provider. Giving up smoking as soon as possible is essential to preventing progression of the disease.

COPD and Lung Cancer

Since COPD is often closely linked 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, cells become damaged due to a pollutant, which most often enters the body through cigarette smoke, but can also be found in some environmental inhalants. Since lung cancer is often fatal, it’s important that COPD patients mitigate damage as soon as possible by removing factors that damage the lungs, especially smoking.

COPD and Diabetes

While COPD does not cause diabetes, it can make battling the difficult symptoms of diabetes more difficult. One of the primary complications of having both COPD and diabetes results from adverse interactions of the medications prescribed for COPD and diabetes. Since diabetes can also restrict a patient’s lungs, diabetic COPD patients may find their symptoms worsened.

Since smoking can result in an exacerbation of 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. Most importantly, though, work with your doctor to ensure that the medications he or she prescribes you will not have adverse interactions. This can alleviate the most dangerous part of managing two diseases at once.

COPD and Dementia

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 they deteriorate at a quicker pace than COPD patients without dementia. Since preventing dementia can be integral to long-term health of a COPD patient, maintaining a healthy body weight and cholesterol level can help prevent risks of dementia. Also, try to keep your mind sharp by regularly engaging in mind-sharpening activities. Crossword puzzles and games have been found to help engage the mind.

End Stages of COPD: Dying from COPD

Unfortunately, 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 2011, with smoking cited as the cause of COPD in most of the cases. Unfortunately, in most cases, doctors are unable to give a clear prognosis once someone has been diagnosed with COPD. Some patients live six months, while others live for years. A person’s age at diagnosis weighs heavily into life expectancy, but those with moderate to severe COPD will usually have reduced life expectancy despite their age.

For most patients whose COPD becomes fatal, lung failure is the ultimate cause of death. After months, years, or even decades of struggling with lung problems, the patient’s lungs finally stop working. Heart failure is also a factor for COPD fatalities, with COPD often contributing to heart problems. Other patients may suffer from lung infections or lung cancer.

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.