Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a disease that causes breathing difficulties.

It’s the fourth most common cause of death among people in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Getting treatment and developing healthy lifestyle habits are essential to improving your outlook with this condition.

In addition to causing breathing difficulties, COPD can also lead to significant weight loss.

According to a literature review published in the Journal of Translational Internal Medicine, 25 to 40 percent of people with COPD have low body weight. Unintentional weight loss is a sign of a serious issue, especially if you lose quite a few pounds in a short amount of time.

To promote good quality of life and overall health with COPD, it’s important to learn how to maintain your weight and meet your nutritional needs.

Eating enough calories and nutrients is essential to supporting your:

  • breathing
  • immune system
  • energy levels

COPD develops as a result of lung damage. There are two main forms of this disease:

Chronic bronchitis causes severe inflammation (swelling) and irritation in the airways of your lungs. This in turn leads to mucus buildup. This mucus blocks your airways, making it difficult to breathe properly.

Emphysema develops when air sacs in your lungs are damaged. Without enough air sacs, your lungs can’t properly take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide.

Smoking is the most common cause of COPD. Breathing issues and constant cough (or “smoker’s cough”) are often the first signs of the disease.

Other symptoms of COPD include:

COPD develops slowly. You may not notice any bothersome symptoms until the disease has progressed past the early stages.

Many people with COPD receive an advanced-stage diagnosis because they seek medical attention late.

Weight loss is a sign of severe COPD.

At this stage of the disease, damage to your lungs becomes so severe that your lung volume expands in size, which eventually flattens your diaphragm, reducing the amount of space between your lungs and stomach.

When this happens, your lungs and stomach may push against one another and cause discomfort when you eat. A flattened diaphragm also makes breathing more difficult.

Eating too fast or eating certain foods may trigger bloating or indigestion, which can also make it harder to breathe. This might discourage you from eating regular, healthy meals as well.

Common triggers include:

  • salty foods
  • spicy foods
  • fried foods
  • high-fiber foods
  • carbonated drinks
  • caffeine

Sometimes, the physical exertion of preparing foods can be too much for people with COPD. You might feel fatigued or out of breath when cooking. This might discourage you from making snacks and meals.

COPD can also contribute to mental health issues, which can in turn affect your appetite and eating habits. When you’re coping with the effects of COPD, it’s not uncommon to experience depression or anxiety.

Such mental health challenges affect everyone differently. Some people eat more and gain weight, while others eat less and lose weight.

Even if you have a good appetite, your body burns more calories while breathing with damaged lungs than it would with healthy lungs.

According to the COPD Foundation, people with this condition need an extra 430 to 720 calories per day.

High calorie needs, and not being able to meet them, can lead to unintentional weight loss.

Being underweight is often associated with poor nutrition. In people with COPD, the effects of poor nutrition can be particularly serious.

Not getting enough nutrients weakens your immune system and increases your risk for infections. This is why many people with COPD are hospitalized with chest infections.

Being underweight and malnourished can also make you feel extremely tired. Chronic fatigue makes it difficult to complete everyday tasks.

To increase your body weight while making sure you get the proper nutrients, it may help to:

In some cases, your doctor or dietitian may encourage you to add a nutritional supplement to your diet.

Simplify your snacks and meals

Finding ways to prepare snacks and meals more easily might also help you meet your nutritional needs.

For example, you can reduce some of the physical work cooking involves by buying:

  • precut produce
  • microwaveable meals
  • other packaged products

Cut back on sodium

When you’re shopping for preprepared or packaged food products, look for low-sodium options. Eating too much sodium causes your body to retain water, which puts more pressure on your lungs.

Pay attention to your mental health

If you notice that you’ve lost weight around the same time that you’ve been experiencing feelings of depression, anxiety, or stress, consider asking your doctor about ways to improve your mental health.

Antidepressants and other treatments may help you manage your weight while improving your mood and outlook on life.

For more tips and support, your doctor may refer you to a registered dietitian or other specialist. A registered dietitian can help you develop ways to adjust your diet while coping with COPD.

There’s no cure for COPD, but taking steps to treat and manage the condition can help improve your health and quality of life.

Maintaining a healthy weight and eating nutrient-rich foods are essential for meeting your body’s health needs with COPD. It’s also helpful to avoid foods that trigger or worsen your symptoms.

To meet your weight management and nutrition goals, try to make a few small changes to your diet and eating habits at a time. For more tips, consider making an appointment with a registered dietitian.