Does COPD Cause Weight Loss [Medical Experts Explained]

Does COPD Cause Weight Loss [Medical Experts Explained]

Some people suffering from severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may experience being underweight and malnourished as their situation worsens. When your lungs are not functioning well as they should, your body needs to work harder to respire.

Remember that when you lose weight, you lose muscle mass — including those responsible for breathing. Your partially blocked airways and damaged lungs make it a struggle to let air in and out. However, people with COPD may take various measures to prevent weight loss.

If the question “does COPD cause weight loss?” has been spinning in your mind for quite some time, you have reached the perfect site. Scroll through this article to discover more about the relationship between COPD and weight loss.

Metabolic Rate In Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Patients

In 2002, a study regarding the predictive value of weight change in COPD patients found that patients who did not gain weight were, on average, older, had a lower ratio between spontaneous energy input and energy expenditure, and higher degrees of indicators of systemic inflammation.

COPD patients often cannot produce enough energy because their oxygen delivery is impaired. Your physical activities are, therefore, restricted. Additionally, it manifests with several signs, such as muscle cramps and shortness of breath. Thus, people who use long-term oxygen have higher energy expenditure

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease COPD patients are known to have heightened metabolic rates due to impairment in their respiratory operation. Several studies claim that body mass index (BMI) with low fat-free mass index (FFMI) are major mortality risk factors.

Consequently, physicians have long advocated nutritional assistance as a valuable part of treating COPD patients with low BMI. Several dietary intervention studies have resulted in positive outcomes regarding pulmonary function, exercise capacity, or weight increase.

COPD related weightloss - woman holding tape measure around waist

Meal Preparation With COPD Patients

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) causes a person to get too tired to prepare and eat meals. Knowing that regularly eating healthy foods is essential, having little appetite can cause severe health problems in the long run. 

The following tips can help you get the necessary nutrition you need with ease.

  • Choose meals that are quick to prepare.
  • Eat with your family and friends.
  • Eat in a relaxed environment. 
  • Try eating heavy meals early to get enough energy throughout the day.
  • Try adding your favorite food to your meals.  

Nutrition Recommendations For COPD Patients

Once you feel like you are losing weight, you should immediately visit your physician or dietician and ask what is happening. Their advice might include eating more protein and calories. In addition, ingesting small, frequent meals may be more manageable than eating big meals.

The United States Department of Agriculture provides easy and quick recipes to prepare most COPD patients’ meal planning. They advise individuals to focus on foods with high calories, protein, and fats. 

1. Eat more high calorie foods

Patients who need to gain weight must add more calories to their diet proportionally. Some preparation tips to increase your calorie intake are as follows:

  • Spread peanut butter in sandwiches or any of your preferred snacks.
  • Drink smoothies with berries and nut butter.
  • Mix a teaspoon of olive oil into your hot foods.
  • Use honey to sweeten food and drinks.
  • Eat walnuts, dried foods, almonds, and olives.

2. Eat foods with high protein

Sufficient protein intake helps build muscle mass and gain weight. Foods high in protein include nuts and seeds, cheese, tofu, eggs, meat, fish, poultry, and milk.

  • Spread peanut butter on whole-grain snacks, sandwiches, toast, and cut-up apples.
  • Add protein powder to milkshakes and smoothies.
  • Add seeds or mixed nuts to cereal, cottage cheese, and yogurt.

3. Eat foods with high fat

Fats can help digest food and produce vitamins. You may talk to your doctor or dietician about including extra supplemental nutrition drinks for added vitamins, minerals, and calories. 

  • Cut-up apple with peanut butter, with mixed nuts and cinnamon on top
  • Raw vegetables and hummus or ranch dressing
  • Whole-grain crackers and nut butter
  • Smoothie with fruit, yogurt, and nut butter
  • Greek yogurt with berries and almond slices
  • Cheese stick, hard-boiled egg, and mixed nuts

4. Eat small but frequent meals

As your COPD progresses, you will struggle to breathe when eating heavy meals. Eating nutritious foods frequently, even with smaller portions, is the best way to offset your condition. 

However, when your COPD keeps weighing you down, or your weight is always below the desired level, you may need to visit your dietician and ask for a more suitable dietary meal. 

woman holding large pants caused by weightloss

Frequently Asked Questions

What stage of COPD do you start losing weight?

As COPD reaches stage III, it significantly impacts your way of life, and losing weight becomes an issue during this stage of the disease. This is because COPD can cause patients to get tired and experience shortness of breath, reducing their desire to eat.

Moreover, your COPD weight loss symptoms can worsen when you do not get the nutrients you need. Besides losing appetite, you may be more likely to catch other infections like colds and flu.

Can COPD cause sudden weight loss?

Yes, COPD can cause sudden weight loss. Besides manifesting respiratory and lung complications, COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, may result in sudden weight loss. 

According to a literature review in the Journal of Translational Internal Medicine, about 25 to 40 percent of COPD patients have low body weight. Experiencing sudden emphysema weight loss is typical for some people with COPD, especially those suffering from emphysema.

What are the signs of COPD getting worse?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) symptoms can worsen abruptly. You may find it challenging to breathe. In addition, you may cough or wheeze more, producing more phlegm.

Below are specific signs that may indicate that your COPD is getting worse.

  • Increased shortness of breath
  • It is a cardinal signal that your health problem is getting more severe. For instance, if walking up a bit inclined or climbing the stairs has become challenging, your COPD condition is deteriorating.

  • Wheezing
  • When your wheezing becomes consistent, you should get medical attention immediately, as it could manifest in COPD exacerbation. Moreover, a study claims that approximately 38 percent of COPD patients had wheezing as one of the symptoms.

  • Worsening cough
  • Coughing that lasts for several weeks demands a physician’s visit. They may require you to have a chest x-ray to ensure the diagnosis. It could be due to COPD or other heart problems.

  • Phlegm changes
  • If you increase the quantity of phlegm you produce and its color changes from clear to green or yellow, your COPD might worsen. The color change could be a signal on an infected lung.

  • Muscle weakness and fatigue
  • Most people with weight loss COPD quickly get tired. Fatigue in Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can also be from inflammation that leaks throughout the patient’s body, thus, weakening the muscles.

  • Edema
  • Due to pulmonary hypertension, edema may cause the feet, legs, and ankles to swell. Such conditions include various health issues, such as high pressure on lung vessels, insufficient oxygen, and inflammation.

    How do I gain weight with COPD?

    Due to increased work of respiration, your COPD-infected body burns more calories. Aside from questioning, “why does COPD cause weight loss,” you should also ask about how to gain weight when diagnosed with COPD.

    Note that about 1 in 4 individuals with COPD are malnourished and underweight, and here are some tips on how to gain weight if you are dealing with COPD.

  • Eat nutritious fats
  • The digestive process of eating full fat does not tax the respiratory system as other foods do. You may put your salad in olive oil instead of plain steamed vegetables. 

  • Refrain from restricting yourself to desserts
  • Ensure to balance your sweets with nutritious food. Ice creams and cakes typically have eggs and milk in the ingredients, so eating them can help you get added fats and proteins. 

  • Stay moderate with dairy
  • Add a slice of cheese to your pasta, sandwiches, or casseroles for extra calcium and calories to your diet. However, it is beneficial not to go overboard.

    Is it hard to gain weight with COPD?

    COPD symptoms also weaken your immune system, making losing weight easier than gaining weight. The loss of appetite or food not tasting as pleasing as it used to can be due to difficulty breathing.

    In addition, about 85% of COPD patients have at least one digestive system concern. It is much harder for them to gain weight as they feel full quickly after eating even a tiny portion of their meal.

    Why is weight loss common with COPD?

    Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) makes breathing difficult for patients. When the lungs do not function well, the respiration process gets compromised. Besides that, you may also experience weariness, making exercise and healthy meal preparation harder. 

    Fight Off COPD Symptoms Through Healthy Eating

    The question “does COPD cause weight loss” is easily answerable by a “yes!” Besides, you can try various dietary preparations and treatments to help manage the harmful effects of COPD on your body. 

    Although nutritional management of patients suffering from COPD is challenging, early detection of the symptoms further prevents weight loss before you become malnourished. 


    • Agha, M. A., & El Wahsh, R. A. (2013). Basal metabolic rate in bronchial asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients. Egyptian Journal of Chest Diseases and Tuberculosis, 62(1), 39-44.
    • Berber, N. K., Yetkin, Ö., Kılıç, T., Berber, I., & Özgel, M. (2018). The effects of home oxygen therapy on energy metabolism in patients with COPD. International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, 13, 1577-1582.
    • Huang, C., Tsai, H., Wei, F., Kuo, H., Tao, W., Cheng, L., Lee, H., Wu, K., Chen, H., Hsu, H., Hsu, Y., Wang, C., & Lin, S. (2015). Wheezing, a significant clinical phenotype of COPD: experience from the Taiwan Obstructive Lung Disease Study. International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, 10, 2121-2126.
    • The nutritional management of unintentional weight loss in people with COPD. The nutritional management of unintentional weight loss in people with COPD - Prescription foods. (n.d.). Retrieved December 5, 2022, from 
    • Rawal, G. & Yadav, S.(2015).Nutrition in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: A review. Journal of Translational Internal Medicine,3(4) 151-154.

    Written by Andy Flynn

     Andy Flynn - co-founder sprylyfe and arya biomed

    Andy Flynn is the founder of Sprylyfe, the leading retailer of portable oxygen concentrators in the United States. He also co-founded ARYA BioMed.

    Get to know him on LinkedIn.

    Medically Reviewed By Aaron Gravely, M.D.

     Aaron Gravely MD, researcher, medical doctor

    Aaron L. Gravely, M.D. is a professional medical writer and physician-scientist with over 8 years of experience in healthcare and medical research.

    Get to know him on LinkedIn or read his published works.

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