COPD and heart failure, have one very serious symptom in common—difficulty breathing. If you have COPD and heart problems, it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint which disease is causing your shortness of breath. In many instances, it could be a combination of the two. Often, sufferers of COPD and heart failure have difficulty exercising, walking distances and climbing stairs. There are however several differences between each condition.
In patients with heart failure, the heart is having difficulty pumping blood to the body. When a person with heart failure is in a resting state, they tend to not have much difficulty breathing. However, when this same person starts to exert himself, the heart must work extra hard to pump blood to the body and the lungs. In this instance, the heart cannot keep up with the demand for blood throughout the body, and eventually becomes backed up in the lungs.
Just like people with heart failure, people with COPD tend to maintain a normal rate of breathing while in a resting state. When an individual with COPD becomes active, the lungs cannot keep up with a normal level of inhalation versus exhalation. How does this happen? When a person with COPD exhales, all of the oxygen does not escape the lungs. This is due to oxygen getting trapped in the intricate pathways and damaged tissues of the lungs. As a result, the person is inhaling their next breath while oxygen is still trying to escape.
How can COPD Influence Heart Failure?
- Left-sided Heart Failure and COPD
Unfortunately, heart disease is the most common cause of death in the United States, and left-sided heart disease is the number one form. COPD is not directly related to left-sided heart failure, but the two conditions can exacerbate each other. When the blood does not become properly oxygenated due to COPD, this can put extra stress on the heart worsening the symptoms of left-sided heart failure. Conversely, excess fluid in the lungs from left-sided heart failure can make breathing even more difficult for someone with COPD. Left-sided heart failure is often the result of high blood pressure or coronary artery disease.
- Right-sided Heart Failure and COPD
During right-sided heart failure, COPD can have a direct influence on the heart’s right ventricle. Pulmonary hypertension results when the blood pressure inside the arteries goes up. This can be in response to abnormally low oxygen levels in the vessels inside the lungs from COPD. The excess strain from pulmonary hypertension on the right ventricle can result in heart failure. Right-sided heart failure causes fluid to accumulate in the legs, ankles and abdomen as well as the lungs. It is important to note that other medical conditions may be responsible for right-sided heart failure, not just COPD.
How Do I Know if I Have COPD and Heart problems?
If you suspect that your COPD symptoms are damaging your heart, it is important to immediately talk to your doctor. Congestive heart failure can come on quickly and be fatal. There are multiple types of medications that can help control hypertension and other conditions that lead to heart failure. If prescription medications fail, there are a variety of surgical procedures that can be performed to improve your heart’s function. Keep a close eye on your weight, breathing and appetite. If you’re experiencing increased swelling in your feet, legs or abdomen it is important to speak with a doctor. Remember that dietary changes can help positively influence heart health.