Weight Loss

When you have COPD, there are many aspects of the disease to consider. Besides understanding how to properly use your medications and learning ways to reduce your risk of developing flare-ups, it’s important to maintain your body’s strength and muscle mass to order to support healthy breathing. That means checking your weight regularly, seeking nutritional advice from your physician, and exercising in order to maintain muscle strength. If you have late-stage COPD, maintaining body weight is even more crucial.

There are many reasons why people with COPD, especially those with emphysema, may begin to lose weight and muscle mass. It’s very common for those with breathing problems to exercise less often because they feel tired or fatigued, which may decrease appetites.

Patients with COPD and other respiratory diseases also often suffer from co-morbid diseases, such as depression, which can also contribute to weight loss. In addition, excess carbon dioxide in the blood (a symptom usually noted in those with emphysema because the body cannot exhale as fully to “push out” waste gases) can make you feel exhausted all the time because your body is using more and more of its energy to breathe. In fact, according to a recent study in the journal Chest, late-stage COPD patients with emphysema could be using as much as 20 percent more energy at rest than healthy individuals.  

Complications of Weight Loss      

Weight loss and decreases in muscle mass could lead to more serious complications in the lives of those with COPD, including a rise in infections, such as pneumonia.

Rapid weight loss (usually more than four to five pounds in a week) are sometimes indicative of a type of metabolic chain reaction where the body can no longer fully absorb the nutrition from foods quickly enough. In other words, the body is burning fuel more quickly than it is supplying it. 

While those metabolic changes are not completely understood at this time, they appear to be similar to the wasting syndromes seen in other serious diseases where the body cannot fully benefit from proteins at a cellular level. At this point, maintaining your weight is more important than ever, as you need to preserve the muscles in your diaphragm in order to help you breathe. Some medications, such as oxandrolone (a synthetic anabolic steroid), may provide some help in restoring your weight and muscle tone.

Take Charge

By carefully monitoring your weight and symptoms and working with a doctor and/or nutritionist and caregiver, you can find ways to improve your diet with high-calorie, high-protein meals. 

Here are some basic tips to help give you ideas about how to increase your daily caloric intake:

  • Try eating six small meals instead of three large ones. The smaller stomach contents may make it easier to breathe.
  • Use bronchodilator medications to clear your airways before eating.
  • Drink plenty of water to decrease the thickness of mucus, but not if your doctor advises against too much fluid intake because of complications from fluid retention.
  • Consider adding nutritional shake supplements as between-meal snacks, like Boost or Ensure.
  • Limit sodium intake, as it contributes to fluid retention and may make you feel bloated.
  • Choose easy-to-prepare foods and keep high-energy snacks within reach.
  • Eat foods that are high in protein and fat, like whole milk and cheese.
  • Add condiments to meals like mayonnaise and ketchup.
  • Try drinking fluids after eating so you don’t fill up on liquids.
  • Increase the caloric intake of familiar foods by adding high-calorie additives, such as a hard-boiled egg inside meatloaf or finely chopped nuts to salads and yogurts.
  • Eat with friends and family and/or play music while you eat to improve your mood.
  • Avoid “empty calorie” foods and beverages like soda, sweets, and candy.

Work closely with your doctor to avoid any weight loss, even if it’s minor. Check your weight daily and ask your doctor how many calories you should be consuming each day and then try to meet those goals. Don’t forget to stay as upbeat and as mobile as possible. 

If you fear that you may be at risk for losing weight, your doctor can likely help you plan a strategy, including adding medications that may help.