Cardiovascular diseases and diabetes are some of the most common coexisting conditions in COPD. Shared risk factors and overlapping physiological processes likely contribute to the high rate of co-occurrence.

If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a progressive, inflammatory condition affecting your respiratory system, you may have an increased chance of developing other conditions. Separate conditions that occur at the same time are called comorbidities.

While any condition can occur alongside COPD, some comorbidities are more likely than others as a result of shared risk factors, such as obesity, and overlapping physiological processes.

According to a 2022 research review using data from more than 447,000 people, the most common comorbidities in COPD are:

  • hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • coronary artery disease
  • diabetes
  • osteoarthritis
  • psychiatric conditions
  • asthma

Of these, hypertension and coronary artery disease are the two most prominent comorbidities with COPD.

Hypertension happens when the force of blood within your arteries is too high and reaches a point where it becomes damaging or poses a risk to the integrity of your cardiovascular system.

According to a 2023 study, comorbidity between hypertension and COPD likely occurs for several reasons.

Chronic low oxygen levels and systemic inflammation from COPD can promote stiffness in your arteries, and corticosteroid medications used to treat COPD can contribute to hypertension by promoting fluid retention, electrolyte imbalances, and other vascular effects.

Hypertension doesn’t always cause symptoms, but if they happen, they can include:

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • vision changes
  • chest pain
  • nosebleeds
  • shortness of breath
  • confusion
  • fatigue

Coronary artery disease (CAD) — also known as coronary heart disease — is caused by narrowing or blockages in your coronary arteries. The coronary arteries are the large blood vessels that provide the heart muscle with oxygenated blood.

As with hypertension, the link between CAD and COPD is thought to involve chronic low oxygen levels in your bloodstream, which can affect the flexibility of your arteries and damage their inner lining, allowing plaque to build up.

The authors of a 2021 research analysis concluded that people living with COPD have a 1.24 times greater risk of CAD than people without COPD.

Symptoms of CAD can include:

  • chest pain
  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • lightheadedness
  • nausea
  • irregular heartbeat
  • pain radiating in your neck, jaw, back, or arm

Type 2 diabetes happens when your body doesn’t effectively use or produce enough of the hormone insulin, leading to high blood sugar levels.

A 2018 review found that people living with COPD had a 17% greater chance of having type 2 diabetes than those without COPD.

Systemic inflammation due to COPD, along with the use of corticosteroids to treat the condition, can promote insulin resistance, which is a key feature of type 2 diabetes.

COPD can also cause frequent weight fluctuations, which can change your insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism, increasing your risk for type 2 diabetes.

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes may include:

  • frequent urination
  • increased thirst
  • unexplained weight changes
  • fatigue
  • increased hunger
  • blurry vision
  • darkened patches of skin
  • tingling or numbness in your extremities
  • recurrent infections and/or slow wound healing

Osteoarthritis, an inflammatory joint condition, is caused by the breakdown of cartilage in degenerative joint disease. It leads to bone-on-bone friction that creates persistent pain, swelling, and stiffness in joints throughout your body.

A 2018 review involving data from more than 100,000 people found that an average of 35.5% of those living with COPD also reported having osteoarthritis.

While systemic inflammation from COPD may promote osteoarthritis development, shared risk factors such as obesity and smoking are believed to account for much of this comorbidity.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis include:

  • joint pain
  • joint stiffness
  • swelling around a joint
  • decreased range of motion
  • muscle weakness and loss of muscle mass around a joint
  • a grinding or grating sensation in a joint

Living with a chronic condition that affects your ability to be physically active can be a source of significant psychological stress. In a Danish study published in 2023, researchers found that people with COPD had a 5.7% greater chance of experiencing a mood disorder, stress-related disorder, or anxiety disorder than the larger population.

While the challenges of managing a condition such as COPD can naturally contribute to psychological distress, systemic inflammation in COPD may also affect the brain functions that underlie certain mental health conditions.

Symptoms of mental health conditions can vary, but mood-related conditions can show up as:

  • unusual mood shifts
  • persistent low mood
  • appetite changes
  • sleep disturbances
  • fatigue or low energy
  • persistent worry, apprehension, or dread
  • lack of concentration

About 1 out of 5 people with COPD have asthma. Like COPD, asthma is an inflammatory respiratory condition. When you have asthma, inflammation in your airways can cause swelling and airway narrowing, making it difficult to breathe.

COPD and asthma can affect one another because they both promote inflammation in your respiratory system. If you have one of these conditions, it can naturally increase your chances of developing the other.

Symptoms of asthma can include:

  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pressure or tightness
  • symptoms that worsen in response to triggers such as allergens

COPD can influence processes in your body that affect other conditions, but shared risk factors are also a big contributor to comorbidities. By managing certain COPD risk factors, you may be able to lower your chances of developing other conditions.

Shared risk factors associated with COPD and its comorbidities include:

  • cigarette smoking
  • environmental exposure to lung irritants
  • alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency
  • underdeveloped lungs
  • obesity
  • inadequate diet
  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • age older than 40 years

While you can’t change every risk factor, focusing on healthy lifestyle changes may help improve your quality of life with COPD and reduce the risk or severity of coexisting conditions.

By effectively managing one condition, you may be able to improve your outcomes in another. For example, treating COPD can help reduce physiological risk factors that may contribute to cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Stick to your regular checkup schedule, take medications as directed, and let your doctors know if you experience any new or changing symptoms.

If a loved one has COPD and one or more comorbidities, life may get very hectic or even overwhelming for them. You can help them cope by:

  • going along to appointments for support and advocacy
  • offering help with transportation
  • taking on some everyday responsibilities, such as cooking and laundry
  • helping them keep track of doctors’ appointments
  • helping them maintain healthy lifestyle habits
  • providing emotional support

Supporting a loved one through COPD and other health conditions can be demanding and overwhelming, even when you approach it with the best intentions.

You can take care of yourself during this time by:

  • recruiting other loved ones to share the responsibilities
  • taking regular breaks
  • engaging in self-care practices such as relaxation time and hobbies
  • learning stress-reduction techniques
  • joining a support group
  • speaking with a therapist or counselor

Being kind to yourself and prioritizing your own well-being can help you stay resilient and be in your best shape to support your loved one.

COPD is a chronic respiratory condition involving damage and inflammation that makes it difficult to move air in and out of your lungs. As a result of certain shared risk factors and overlapping physiological processes, coexisting conditions are common with COPD.

Working closely with your doctors to manage COPD and other health issues can help improve your overall health outcomes.