Though we don’t yet know why, there does appear to be a connection between AFib and COPD. Treating both conditions will require a careful balance of treatment.

It’s common for people to have both chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD) and atrial fibrillation (AFib). In fact, COPD is associated with a 28% increase in the risk for AFib. This is partially because the conditions share overlapping risk factors, such as smoking.

Researchers also believe that the conditions are linked because the reduced lung function associated with COPD can make AFib more likely. This article will look into the connection between these conditions and how to treat them.

The exact link between COPD and AFib hasn’t been found. Researchers believe that COPD might lead to a higher risk of AFib and that it can make symptoms of existing AFib worse. COPD has been linked to a lower quality of life and more severe symptoms for people with AFib.

There are several possible ways that COPD can cause or worsen AFib. Reduced lung function and lack of oxygen strain the heart, leading to remodeling of the heart’s upper chambers (the atria). Inflammation in COPD is also thought to play a role in this process.

Plus, some medications that treat COPD, such as beta-2 agonists, have been linked to an increased risk of AFib.

Treatment in people with AFib and COPD can be challenging since some of the treatments for one condition can worsen symptoms of the other condition. Your healthcare team can help create an individualized treatment plan.

Common treatment options include:

  • Bronchodilators: Bronchodilators, like inhaled beta-agonists, are a primary treatment for COPD. However, they can also trigger AFib episodes.
  • Inhaled corticosteroids: Corticosteroids treat inflammation in your airways and can make breathing easier. Inhaled steroids are generally considered safe. Oral steroids may be needed for COPD flares. But high doses have side effects and can increase the risk of AFib. Treatment with oral steroids is typically used for a limited time.
  • Oxygen therapy: Increasing the level of oxygen in the blood with supplemental oxygen is sometimes necessary for treating COPD.
  • Lifestyle changes: Factors such as smoking, obesity, and inactivity can‌ make COPD and AFib harder to manage. If any of these factors apply to you, your doctor will help you create a plan for them. This can include quitting smoking, weight management plans, and starting an exercise plan.
  • Medications to slow down and control heart rate: Medications such as beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers can help slow down and control heart rate and are used to treat atrial fibrillation. These medications must be chosen carefully in people with COPD since certain beta-blockers may worsen COPD symptoms.
  • Blood thinners: Blood thinners reduce the risk of clots and stroke.
  • Catheter ablation: A catheter ablation is a surgery that can help treat AFib. During the procedure, a cardiologist uses extremely hot or cold temperatures to destroy areas in the heart responsible for the abnormal rhythms in AFib.

Having COPD and AFib together is associated with reduced life expectancy and poor outcomes. This is partially because many people with COPD and AFib also have other conditions, such as diabetes, coronary artery disease, and heart failure.

Across multiple studies, patients with both AFib who also had COPD had an increased risk of serious complications, including stroke, major bleeding, and death.

It’s important to keep in mind that your individual outcome is influenced by multiple factors. Your overall health, your response to treatment, your age, and more can all make a big difference in your outcome and life expectancy. Your doctor can help you understand how having COPD and AFib will affect your health in the long term.

You’re not alone

It can be stressful to manage any chronic health condition, and having two chronic health conditions at once is enough to overwhelm anyone. But you don’t have to manage your COPD and AFib alone. There are resources you can turn to for support.

For instance, you can check out:

  • A Better Breathers Club: The Better Breathers Club is a program offered by the American Lung Association. The program has support groups online and in person, and group meetings offer social activities, guest speakers, advice on how to manage your breathing, and more.
  • Living with COPD: Living with COPD is an online forum. You can join discussions and find support at any time of day or night from the comfort of your home.
  • The COPD Foundation: You can learn more about COPD, find resources, and get help quitting smoking when you head to the COPD Foundation’s site.
  • StopAfib: At StopAfib, you’ll find educational resources, tools to help you locate local services, a support forum, and more.
  • Arrhythmia Alliance: Arrhythmia Alliance has a wealth of resources you can pursue, including educational videos, support groups, news about the latest treatments, information about upcoming events, and more.
  • Smokefree.gov: Smokefree.gov is a federal website that can help you quit smoking, if you smoke. The site provides guides that will get you started on your smoke-free journey and keep you motivated along the way.
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It’s common for people with COPD to develop AFib. The exact reason for this is unclear, but it’s likely that the reduced lung function and oxygen to the body linked to COPD increases the risk of AFib.

Having COPD is also associated with more severe symptoms and worse outcomes for people with AFib. Treatments will focus on managing both conditions and might include lifestyle changes, using a bronchodilator or inhaled steroids, supplemental oxygen, medications to control and slow down heart rate, blood thinners, and surgery.