Co-Existing Conditions All COPD Patients should be Aware of

Co-morbidities & COPD

Co-Existing Conditions All COPD Patients should be Aware of

By COPD Connect StaffCA Published at March 28, 2012 Views 6,440 Comments 1 Likes 1

Today, doctors increasingly recognize COPD as a complex disorder. People living with COPD often have other serious medical issues that accompany the condition. Called “co-morbidities,” these chronic conditions may include heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, lung cancer and depression.

Although the link between COPD and these conditions is not fully understood, evidence suggests that contributing factors may include age (because we’re living longer, our chances of becoming ill increase), tobacco smoke and other inhaled toxins, chronic, wide-spread inflammation in response to smoking and medication interactions.

What’s Age Got to Do With It?

As the population ages, the odds of developing additional health issues increases – from heart disease to Alzheimer’s. Recent data indicates that half of all people aged 65 years or older have at least three chronic medical conditions, and a fifth have five or more. But researchers believe there’s more linking COPD and co-existing medical problems than just age alone.

The Effects of Smoking

According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine (as cited in The Primary Care Respiratory Journal, 2008, pg. 200), cigarette smoking is associated with more than 80 percent of all COPD cases, and a smoker is 10 times more likely to die of COPD than a non-smoker. Although there’s no guarantee that a smoker will develop COPD, all smokers are at risk for this lung disorder.

Smoking gradually changes the structure of the lungs and speeds the natural decline in lung function that comes with age. But the lungs aren’t the only organ affected by smoking. The toxins released in tobacco smoke also have a negative impact on the heart, bones, skin, and brain. While the lungs act as a filter to keep pollutants from entering the bloodstream, they are only able to block a portion of these damaging toxins, while the rest circulate throughout the body – potentially affecting everything from the heart to the brain.

Chronic exposure to inhaled toxins, particularly tobacco, is directly related to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and hypertension – conditions commonly found in 50 percent of all COPD patients.

How Inflammation Plays a Role

Inflammation is also believed to play a big role in COPD and co-existing conditions. Within the past 20 years scientists have started to recognize inflammation as a common reaction to what the human body perceives as irritants, or foreign substances.

Over time, repeated exposure to inhaled toxins, particularly tobacco smoke, leads to chronic, wide-spread inflammation throughout the entire body, affecting the lung, heart, blood vessels and other major organs and systems. This likely results in the breathlessness common in COPD – and, as symptoms worsen and quality of life declines, depression, anxiety, and inactivity, which, in turn, lead to increased osteoporosis risk and muscle loss.

What About Medication Interactions?

Because a patient may require multiple medications to treat COPD and co-existing medical conditions, there’s a greater chance of adverse reactions. Earlier studies suggested that treating COPD with bronchodilator medications aggravated other conditions associated with smoking, such as heart disease. Today, prolonged use of inhaled steroids is believed to cause brittle bones, increase the risk of high blood pressure, cataracts and diabetes. These inhaled medications can also raise the risk of pneumonia in someone with COPD. Keeping medication dosages within standard ranges may help to lessen these risks.

A common irritant – tobacco smoke – and a common response – inflammation – may underlie the multiple co-existing conditions often found in people with COPD. By identifying and addressing these common risk factors, doctors can give their patients the comprehensive care they need to better manage their COPD and any co-existing health concerns. The future of COPD treatment is promising as researchers continue to develop therapies that more broadly address tobacco addiction as well as the inflammation that occurs throughout the body in response to smoking.

Other Related Sources:
Bailey, Kristina L., MD. “COPD Increases the Risk for Stroke.” Lung Health Professional Magazine (2011); 2(4): 17-18.

Crockett, Alan J. Price, David. “Co-morbid disease in COPD – more than a coincidence.” International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder. 2007 December; 2(4): 399–400.

Sin, D.D. Anthonisen, N.R. Soriano, J.B. Agusti, A.G. “Mortality in COPD: role of comorbidities.” European Respiratory Journal (2006); 28: 1245–1257.

Thomashow, Byron MD. Harding, Katelyn. “The Importance of Co-morbidities in COPD.” COPD Foundation. 27 October 2010. Accessed 21 March 2012.

Yawn, Barbara P. Kaplan, Alan. “Co-morbidities in people with COPD: a result of multiple diseases, or multiple manifestations of smoking and reactive inflammation?” Primary Care Respiratory Journal (2008); 17(4): 199-205.

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