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Though more cases are likely undiagnosed, over 15 million people in the United States have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and 37 million are estimated to have chronic kidney disease (CKD).

A substantial number of people have both COPD and CKD. Why is this, and what does it mean if you have both conditions?

Before we dive into the potential connection between these two conditions, it’s important to understand what COPD and CKD are.

COPD is a group of progressive lung diseases. The most common of these diseases are emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Emphysema is an irreversible condition that slowly destroys the air sacs in the lungs. This reduces the amount of oxygen that enters the bloodstream and the elasticity of the lungs.

Bronchitis causes inflammation and narrowing of the bronchial tubes. This restricts the amount of air that can come into the lungs.

Both emphysema and chronic bronchitis are frequently present in people with COPD.

COPD makes it hard to breathe. It typically starts slowly with cold-like coughing, but over time it can progress to a tight feeling in the chest and an inability to perform physical activities.

Left untreated, COPD can lead to worsening respiratory infections and heart problems.

Potential causes of COPD include:

  • a history of smoking (or secondhand exposure) and asthma
  • exposure to chemicals, fumes, and air pollution
  • exposure to dust

There’s also a potential genetic predisposition to COPD based on a deficiency in a protein called alpha-1-antitrypsin.

CKD is the progressive and irreversible destruction of the kidneys. If left untreated, it can lead to kidney failure and early cardiovascular disease.

When kidney failure is treated with dialysis or kidney transplant, it’s called end stage renal disease.

The most common causes of CKD are high blood pressure and diabetes, as these can both damage the filtering units in the kidneys.

Symptoms of CKD don’t typically appear until your kidney is severely damaged. Then you may experience:

There’s evidence that COPD is associated to kidney failure, but more research is needed to find out whether it causes kidney failure.

Studies have suggested that people with COPD are 1.6 to 6.3 times more likely to develop chronic kidney failure. However, this doesn’t show that COPD is the specific cause of kidney failure.

Chronic inflammation seems to be a common link between COPD and CKD. The kidneys may be damaged by inflammation of the blood vessels, but this hasn’t yet been confirmed.

COPD is also linked to certain risk factors for kidney failure like sleep apnea.

However, more research is needed to prove a specific causational chain between COPD and kidney failure.

In addition to the symptoms of CKD listed above, people with both CKD and COPD are likely to have a significantly reduced exercise capacity and increased dyspnea (shortness of breath).

They’re also more likely to have comorbidities like heart disease. In these cases, they may experience symptoms associated with those conditions, too.

Treatment options for kidney failure include:

  • diet changes (decreasing fat, salt, protein, and potassium)
  • lifestyle changes (quitting smoking and increasing exercise)
  • taking supplements and medications to manage anemia, production of red blood cells, stool constipation, and even itching
  • dialysis
  • a kidney transplant

Those with COPD and CDK may require kidney dialysis. Dialysis is typically required when the kidneys have lost 85 to 90 percent of their function. It may also be necessary if you experience:

There are two types of kidney dialysis: hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis.

Hemodialysis uses needles and tubes to draw blood continuously through a special machine that uses a semi-permeable screen to filter blood before returning it to the body.

Peritoneal dialysis is less common in the United States. It uses the peritoneum, a semi-permeable membrane that lines the abdomen. A doctor inserts a catheter into the abdomen and a machine then pumps blood through the catheter for the peritoneum to filter.

While there are treatment options available for both COPD and CKD, research has suggested that those with CKD have an increased risk of mortality if they also have COPD.

However, COPD wasn’t found to affect the risk of end stage renal disease in those with advanced CKD.

A 2019 study looking at 2,274 people with COPD also found an increased risk of mortality for those who also had CKD.

Every body is different, though, and many unique factors can impact how you respond to COPD and CKD treatment.

More research into potential connections between COPD and CKD still needs to be done. But at this time, experts know that the presence of both conditions increases the risk of mortality and that chronic inflammation is a common factor in both conditions.

While having COPD and CKD at the same time can mean a poorer outlook, there are treatment options available for both conditions.

If you’re showing any symptoms of COPD or CKD, you should reach out to your healthcare professional for a potential diagnosis as well as a treatment plan for any conditions that may be present.