Physical Side Effects of COPD Medications

by | Jul 25, 2019 | Blog, COPD

If you suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chances are you are taking at least one medication for it. The purpose of taking COPD medications is to manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life. However, these strong drugs come with many side effects, and some of them may cause you to undergo unpleasant physical changes. Keep reading to learn common physical side effects you may experience while taking COPD medications.

Bronchodilators

Bronchodilators are prescribed to help treat shortness of breath. These medications relax and open airways in the lungs and are usually taken in inhaler form. Short-acting bronchodilators are prescribed on an as-needed basis for quick relief, while long-acting bronchodilators are prescribed routinely to manage day-to-day symptoms. There are 2 main types of bronchodilator medicines: beta-agonists and anticholinergics. Your doctor might recommend a combination inhaler using one of each class, which may work better to control symptoms.

Typically, bronchodilators have few side effects and even fewer that would change your physical appearance. You may develop an allergic reaction or rash, in which case your doctor will take you off the medication. Other possible side effects include tremors, nervousness, heart palpitations, headaches, muscle cramps, nausea, dry mouth, oral thrush and sore throat.

Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids (also called steroids) are synthetic hormones that reduce airway inflammation. They are more potent drugs and have stronger side effects than bronchodilators. Short-term courses of corticosteroids are prescribed to treat flare-ups, while long-term courses are prescribed for people with more severe symptoms of COPD. Routine steroids are usually prescribed as part of a combination inhaler that has both a bronchodilator and a corticosteroid.

Inhaled corticosteroids have fewer and milder side effects than oral ones. Possible side effects will be the same as those for bronchodilators. However, long-term use of corticosteroids or short-term use of high doses can cause significant physical changes, including:

  • Puffiness of the face — called “moon face”
  • A rounded lump between the shoulders — called a “buffalo hump”
  • Weight gain due to water retention
  • Swelling of the hands, feet and ankles
  • Thinning skin that bruises easily

Additionally, prolonged use of corticosteroids is linked to osteoporosis. Osteoporosis causes your bones to weaken and thin, which can increase your risk for bone fractures.


Daliresp (Roflumilast)

Daliresp is a phosphodiesterase-4 (PDE4) inhibitor, which is a relatively new class of medications designed to treat COPD. It works by blocking inflammatory cell activation. Like corticosteroids, PDE4 inhibitors are prescribed for people who have more frequent flare-ups or more severe symptoms that are not managed well with bronchodilators.

One significant physical side effect associated with PDE4 inhibitors is drastic weight loss. Other potential side effects include abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and gastrointestinal issues.

Cellular Therapy Treatment for COPD

At Lung Health Institute, we offer a different form of lung treatment: cellular therapy, which uses a patient’s own concentrated blood cells to promote tissue repair and reduce inflammation in the lungs. With less lung inflammation, our patients may experience less shortness of breath, coughing and mucus production. If you are interested in learning more about cellular therapy, contact a patient coordinator today.

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