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The Relationship between COPD and Heart Problems

21 Apr 2017
| Under COPD, Related Conditions | Posted by | 18 Comments
The Relationship between COPD and Heart Problems

The number one cause of death in the United States is heart disease, and the second leading is cancer. However, what many people might not know is that the third leading cause of death is chronic lower respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD and heart problems, specifically heart failure, have one serious symptom in common—difficulty breathing. Often, people with COPD and people with heart failure have difficulty exercising, walking distances and climbing stairs.

If you have COPD and heart problems, it can be difficult to pinpoint which disease is causing your shortness of breath. In some instances, it could be a combination. Here’s what you need to know about the relationship between COPD and heart problems.

Shortness of Breath: Heart Failure or COPD?

COPD and heart problems are complex conditions that can cause shortness of breath. It’s important to know the differences in shortness of breath with COPD and heart failure.

Shortness of Breath Caused by Heart Failure

In patients with heart failure, the heart has difficulty pumping blood. When a person with heart failure is in a resting state, they tend not to have much difficulty breathing. However, under a bit of exertion, the heart must work harder to pump blood to the body and the lungs. If the heart cannot keep up with the demand for blood throughout the body, blood can back up in the lungs, resulting in fluid congestion and shortness of breath.

Shortness of Breath Caused by COPD

As in cases of heart failure, people with COPD tend to maintain a normal rate of breathing while at rest. However, when an individual with COPD becomes active, the lungs cannot bring in enough oxygen, despite heavy breathing.

When a person with COPD exhales, not all of the oxygen is pushed out of the lungs. Oxygen is trapped in the intricate pathways and damaged tissues of the lungs. As a result, people inhale their next breath before all of their previous breath has been expelled. The result is shortness of breath.

Major Types of Heart Failure

The Relationship between COPD and Heart Problems

According to the American Heart Association, there are three major types of heart failure: left-sided, right-sided and congestive.

Left-sided Heart Failure

The two major types of left-sided heart failure are systolic and diastolic. Systolic failure occurs when the left ventricle can no longer contract normally. This prevents the heart from pumping with enough force to push blood into circulation. Diastolic failure happens when the left ventricle loses its ability to relax normally because the heart muscle has become stiff. As a result, the heart cannot properly fill with blood during the resting period between each beat.

Right-sided Heart Failure

Right-sided heart failure usually occurs as a result of some form of left-sided heart failure. When the left ventricle fails, the right ventricle has difficulty performing its job of transferring “used” blood back into the lungs for re-oxygenation. This results in increased fluid pressure, and weakness in the right ventricle. Often, people with right-sided heart failure experience symptoms such as swelling in the legs, ankles and abdomen because blood backs up in the veins.

Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure occurs when the blood flow out of the heart slows down. As a result, blood returning to the heart gets backed up in the veins causing congestion throughout the body, including the lungs. This can result in edema, or swelling of the legs and ankles. Sometimes fluid also collects in the lungs, which is called pulmonary edema.

COPD and Left-Sided Heart Failure

COPD is not directly related to left-sided heart failure, but the two conditions can exacerbate each other. When blood is not properly oxygenated due to COPD, extra stress is placed 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 more difficult for someone with COPD. High blood pressure and coronary artery disease often result in left-sided heart failure.

COPD and Right-Sided Heart Failure

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 rises. This can be in response to abnormally low oxygen levels in the vessels inside the lungs as a result of 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 medical conditions other than COPD can also be responsible for right-sided heart failure.

How Do I Know if I Have COPD and Heart Problems?

The Relationship between COPD and Heart Problems

If you are concerned about COPD and heart problems or if you think you may be experiencing them, it is important to talk to your doctor immediately. Fatal congestive heart failure can strike without warning. However, multiple types of medication can help control hypertension and other conditions that can lead to heart failure.

If prescription medications fail, surgical procedures can be performed to return heart function. Healthy eating habits, such as a reduced or low sodium diet, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and consuming lean protein can help you manage symptoms if you have COPD and heart problems as well.

If you have COPD and heart problems, your doctor may ask you to monitor your weight, breathing and appetite to keep track of how you’re doing and how well your treatment is working. If you experience increased swelling in your feet, legs or abdomen, it is important to speak with a doctor.

There are also medications, treatments and alternative options available to people with COPD, such as stem cell therapy. Many patients report an improved quality of life after treatment. Because stem cell therapy works to promote healing from within the lungs, it has the potential to directly address disease progression and improve quality of life. If you have or someone you love has COPD, emphysema, chronic bronchitis or another chronic lung disease and would like to learn more about your stem cell treatment options, contact us at (800) 729-3065.


  1. Lung Institute

    1 month ago


    Thank you for your comment. COPD can often lead to heard problems because your heart has to work harder to pump oxygen throughout your body. Your primary care physician may be able to recommend breathing exercises to help strengthen your lungs. Additionally, eating a healthy diet and exercising can help to improve your quality of life. Always consult with your physician before making major dietary or exercise changes. Please feel free to explore our blog for helpful information on ways that you can improve your quality of life.


    Lung Institute

  2. robert taylor

    2 months ago

    I was told i had copd in 2112. sinse then i have been told i have type 2 diabetes, and now i have heart problems . now does my copd have anything to do with the others

  3. Matt

    7 months ago

    Hello Becky,
    Thank you for your post. Click here to read more about COPD. We’d recommend you contact your sister’s doctor so they can better explain your sister’s situation. Thanks again and have a great day.

  4. Becky

    7 months ago

    I am looking for info on a condition my sister is said to be having. She lives in northern New Mexico. She has been said to have COPD for years but has continued to smoke. She has informed me she is to have some sort of procedure to relieve stress from her heart and if this does not work will have to have her chest opened and her air passages and lungs scraped. I can not understand what she is trying to tell me can you maybe clear this up so I may understand what she is having done

  5. M R

    8 months ago

    Hello Kimberley,
    Thank you for your post. Unfortunately, chronic lung disease is a progressive disorder meaning it’ll get worse over time. That is why people choose treatment options such as stem cell therapy which may slow down disease progression. If you have any questions, please give us a call at (855) 313-1149 and one of our patient coordinators can answer any questions you may have about the Lung institute or stem cell therapy. Have a great day.

  6. Kimberley Johns-Voss

    8 months ago

    I have had chronic bronchitis for years. Found out 6 months ago that I have mild emphysema. Found out last month via heart cath that I have mild Pulmonary Hypertension (mean 32 mmhg). Cardiologist told me yesterday that I have Cor Pulmonale. I am already on diuretics for the last few years because of borderline left sided heart failure and just went on oxygen 24/7 about 6 months ago because of extreme hypoxia.I thought things were supposed to get better once I quit smoking but the hits just keep coming. I don’t understand.

  7. PB

    11 months ago

    Dear Claudia,

    Thanks for your comment and for sharing some of our story with us. We’re glad to hear that you’re feeling better about your lung transplant, and we wish you the best.

    Kind Regards,

    The Lung Institute

  8. Claudia Brown

    11 months ago

    I had end stage COPD for years. My pulmo suggested I have a lung transplant. Six years ago I had a bilateral lung transplant which was such a blessing. Thank God for donor families and wonderful surgeons. I never felt better in my life and look forward to many more years with my family.

  9. PB

    1 year ago

    Dear Richard,

    First and foremost, we’re sorry to hear that you have been going through such a difficult time with COPD. Pulmonary rehabilitation programs are really great for people with COPD and other chronic lung diseases. Your pulmonary rehab team can help you in many ways. Remember that it’s important to share your recent diagnosis of diastolic heart failure with your pulmonary rehab team. There are many complexities when it comes to COPD and other conditions that can come along with COPD. Because everyone is different and COPD affects everyone in different ways, we recommend writing down all of your questions and discussing them with your pulmonologist, primary care physician and cardiologist. Because your pulmonologist has diagnosed you with diastolic heart failure, he or she will likely recommend you see a cardiologist. Ask your pulmonologist which cardiologist(s) he or she recommends.

    Some people with COPD develop heart problems, and this can happen for many reasons, such as low blood oxygen, fluid build up, blood pressure issues and more. Because COPD causes difficulty breathing and getting enough oxygen, people may not be receiving enough oxygen for their bodies. Sometimes the heart has trouble pushing the oxygen-rich blood through the body. We have written a blog article about how oxygen affects the heart, and you can read that by clicking here. We also did some research online and found this article about diastolic heart failure that you might find helpful, and you can read it by clicking here. We recommend talking with your doctor to discuss your personal health questions. We hope this information is helpful for you, and we wish you the best.

    Kind Regards,

    The Lung Institute

  10. Richard

    1 year ago

    I have had COPD since age 32 diagnosed as secondary to asthma. I was placed on oxygen in Feb 2007, 2L @ rest, 3L @ sleep or exercise. I have gained 100 lbs since 203, and fight every day to loose weight, and I am presently in a Pulmonary Rehab program. My blood pressure is has always been within normal limits, and still is and I do not have any other diseases. My Pulmonary doctor recently diagnosed diastolic heart failure, based on EKG. I am now trying to understand the relationship with both diseases. I have read that COPD doesn’t actually cause the heart problem, but that it can make the heart condition worse. Could you explain the relationship between the two, and how my heart can be further damaged because of the COPD? By the way, my doctor has not explained how I suddenly have heart failure nor has he stated the COPD did not cause it. Thanks for your response

  11. PB

    1 year ago

    Dear Jim,

    COPD and other chronic conditions affect people differently. We recommend talking with your doctor about any questions or concerns you have regarding your health. Because your doctor knows you and your health situation well, he or she will be able to best guide you and answer your questions.

    Kind Regards,

    The Lung Institute

  12. Jim smith

    1 year ago

    Ive had copd, 20yrs chf 15yrs sleep apnea25 yrs. Cad. Diabetes 2 uncontrolled 8yrs. High cholesterol. High trigly. Afib. Angina. 61 male 300 lbs
    Is my time getting short.

  13. PB

    1 year ago

    Dear Robert,

    First and foremost, we’re sorry to hear about the challenges you have been facing with lung cancer, misdiagnosis and COPD. Because different chronic lung diseases have similar symptoms, such as shortness of breath, receiving an accurate diagnosis can be challenging. Your doctor knows you and your health situation well, so it’s important to discuss these questions regarding medications with him or her. Your doctor will be able to guide you best. For many people, stem cell therapy for COPD has helped them feel better, regain their quality of life and improved lung function. We’re happy to answer any questions you have about stem cell treatment options, so feel free to contact us at (855) 313-1149. We look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Best Regards,

    The Lung Institute

  14. Robert G Murphy

    1 year ago

    Since 2004 I have been told I had Asthma and this was by 2 Dr. and when I requested a breathing test I was denied by the VA. I used my health insurance and had a Methocoline challange done by a civilian Dr. and he stated that I did not have asthma. I have had Lung cancer due to asbestosis exposure in the Navy and the upper left lobe removed in 2011. In 2013 I had a aortic valve (TAVR) and have some relief and in Feb 2016 when going back to the Dr due to shortness ob breath I had a breathing test and was told I had COPD not asthma and I had asked the VA Dr in 2013 if I could have COPD and again was told again by the same VA Dr. no I had asthma. with mild exertion I am out of breath I am using Spiriva HandiHaler every morning and have Combivent Respimat rescue inhailer and wonder if there is someother medication that would work better.

  15. Cameron Kennerly

    2 years ago

    Hello Kristijana,

    Although more information is needed on the specifics of your parent’s condition, the simple answer is yes. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and heart failure can ultimately be fatal without proper medication and treatment. Though we do not treat heart failure, we do treat COPD which has the potential to improve your parent’s quality of life. We urge you to reach out to us at (855) 313-1149 for more information on the benefits of stem cell therapy.

    Thanks Krisitjana and we look forward to hearing from you,

    -The Lung Institute

  16. Kristijana Brdar

    2 years ago

    Can person die if they have Copd and heart failure if not having proper treatment.
    Thank you
    Concerned Daughter

  17. PB

    2 years ago

    Hi, Charles,

    Thank you for your comment and for sharing your story with us. As you know, COPD affects everyone differently. For more information about possible treatment options and cost, please feel free to contact us at 1-855-313-1149 to speak with one of our patient coordinators.

    We look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Kind Regards,

    The Lung Institute

  18. Charles richards

    2 years ago

    I was told I had cold in 1997 just before I was diagnosed as having pancreatic cancer as you see I lived through surgery and the treatments but still nobody has came up with any help for the COPD .I have had three heart attacks in the last four years .very close calls with the Lord . I heard that there are some help using stem cell research but it is way too expensive for me to even think of help there . Just thought I would let you know. Of my experience . C.L.Richards.

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