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The Connection Between Heart Failure and COPD

If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), it may be difficult to tell whether you also have heart failure (HF). This is because the two diseases have similar symptoms and common risk factors.

Even for health care providers, it can be difficult to diagnose HF in people with COPD, and vice versa. If you have COPD, you’re also at increased risk for developing HF. And if you have both diseases, it’s especially critical to follow your treatment plan.

Cause and effect

It helps to know a bit about how the two diseases are linked. With HF, the heart can’t pump enough blood throughout the body. This can happen for a variety of reasons. One is severe lung disease, such as COPD. When the lungs don’t function properly, the heart must work harder to get whatever oxygen is available to the body. Over time, this extra work can damage and weaken the heart.

HF can also result from other kinds of heart and blood vessel diseases. For example, high blood pressure puts stress on the heart by making it pump harder to move blood throughout the body. When fatty deposits build up inside the arteries, these blood vessels narrow down. This causes less blood to reach the heart muscle and the heart has to work harder to push the blood through the narrow arteries, causing damage. And when a heart attack occurs, part of the heart muscle dies. This puts strain on the remaining heart muscle. Drinking too much alcohol for a long period of time may also damage the heart.

Once HF develops, the weakened heart can’t pump out blood fast enough. As a result, blood returning to the heart may back up in the veins. When this happens around the lungs, it can cause shortness of breath and fatigue. Other symptoms include a long-lasting cough and coughing up mucus. Of course, these are also signs of COPD.

Two-for-one tips

It’s no surprise that the same management strategies are often good for both of these diseases:

  • Quit smoking, if you haven’t already. Smoking is a major risk factor for HF and COPD. Kicking the habit is one of the most important steps you can take for your heart and lungs.

  • Exercise as advised by your health care provider. Activities such as walking and riding a bike can help build strength and stamina.

  • Follow your treatment plan and take your medicine as prescribed. This will help relieve symptoms of both COPD and HF and prevent them from worsening.

  • Educate yourself. The more you know about these conditions, the better prepared you’ll be to manage your symptoms.

  • Track your weight. Contact your health care provider if you have a sudden weight gain of three or more pounds.

  • Report any worsening of breathlessness or fatigue to your health care provider.