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How Does COPD Affect The Heart? [Experts Explain]

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) presents many risks to your health. It can affect your lungs, heart, and other vital body parts. However, you might think, "how does COPD affect the heart?"

What is COPD?

Nearly 16 million Americans suffer from COPD. Although not many people know that COPD refers to a group of diseases that may cause various effects on lung function. 

COPD can include various lung disease cases, like Chronic Bronchitis and Emphysema, which may trigger breathing problems and airflow blockage.

Usually, air pollutants such as smoke and dust contribute to COPD. Genetic and respiratory factors also increase the risk of developing COPD.

People with COPD may experience difficulty in everyday tasks like climbing the stairs, walking, and working. They most likely need portable or stationary oxygen to supplement their oxygen needs.

Other complications include confusion, memory loss, mental or emotional problems, and poor health. Sometimes, COPD attacks may warrant going to the emergency room or an overnight stay at a hospital.

What do you need to observe if you suspect COPD? If you cough or wheeze frequently or experience excess sputum, mucus, or phlegm production, consult a physician.

Other symptoms of COPD involve shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and trouble with deep breaths.

Physicians may run a test called FEV1 or forced expiratory volume to test your pulmonary function. In simple terms, FEV1 is how much air you can push out of your lungs in one second. 


Does COPD Affect the Heart? 

Many might ask questions like "does COPD affect the heart" or "does COPD cause heart problems." Sadly, the answer is yes.

Researchers pondered the same question as you, too. To determine the effects of COPD on the heart, they studied patients with mild COPD.

These participants came from various backgrounds - gender, ethnicity, smoker status, and age. 

The researchers observed that people's lung function declined along with the heart's ability to fill with oxygen-rich blood. Additionally, the amount of blood their hearts pumped per minute also dropped when their lung conditions worsened. 

The researchers found a link between heart and lung function through this study. Scientists also observed that as COPD patients' lung conditions worsened, so did their heart's ability to pump oxygen-rich blood effectively.

It's also important to note that smokers with COPD showed a more vital link between COPD and heart function.

hands holding a heart shape

Health Risks of COPD to the Cardiovascular System 

For years, experts have tried to find the link between COPD and cardiovascular disease or CVD. Generally, COPD patients have a greater risk of developing heart disease.

Even worse, COPD may elevate your risk of a heart attack.

Also, people suffering from this condition have a greater risk of developing lung cancer and other health conditions. 

How Does COPD Affect the Cardiovascular System? 

In a study, Jeremy A. Falk and his colleagues found that COPD can have many cardiac manifestations. 

COPD may cause lower blood oxygen levels, adding strain on the heart. This phenomenon can contribute to right-sided heart failure and lung fluid buildup. A combination of these symptoms further aggravates COPD symptoms. 

Mild to severe COPD threatens your heart's blood-pumping ability. When this happens, your cardiovascular system becomes more prone to developing conditions like right-sided heart failure, heart attack, and congestive heart failure.

Can COPD Lead to Heart Problems? 

COPD and CVD, or heart problems, are two different conditions. However, many wonder: can COPD affect your heart and lead to heart problems?

As mentioned earlier, COPD can exacerbate existing heart conditions. However, COPD is also the third most common cause of death in the United States.

In addition, COPD and CVD share some symptoms. Shortness of breath and chest pain are common symptoms for both conditions.

COPD can lead to heart problems. For example, when there are lower oxygen levels in the blood due to COPD, blood pressure in the arteries leading to your lungs heightens. Physicians call this situation pulmonary hypertension.

Elevated blood pressure makes your heart work harder, which can weaken its muscles. Over time, this can lead to right-sided heart failure.

While COPD and CVD may occur independently, it's always important to remember that there's a possibility of them coinciding. It can also be the case that COPD causes heart problems, as mentioned earlier.

Can Heart Problems Lead to COPD? 

While we've answered the question, "does COPD affect your heart," we've yet to find out if it works the other way around. 

Can heart disease or problems lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease? There is no conclusive evidence linking heart problems as the cause of COPD.4

However, it's important to remember that your breathing can significantly suffer if the heart is damaged and can't effectively pump blood.

When you have a diseased heart, it can't efficiently pump blood. As a result, the pressure in your heart builds.

As you can recall, shortness of breath may signify COPD or CVD. 

elderly woman with COPD and heart problem wearing nasal cannula

Can COPD Make Heart Disease Get Worse?

Yes, COPD can exacerbate pre-existing heart conditions. COPD deprives the blood of oxygen, making your heart pump vigorously.

Your heart does this to keep blood oxygen levels regular, so your blood pressure also shoots up. 

The strain on your heart may cause fluid buildup in your lungs, as explained earlier.

In more severe cases, a COPD flare-up may lead to myocardial infarction (heart attack) of varying severity. 

How to Prevent Heart-Related Complications for People With COPD? 

The key to preventing any disease — be it cardiovascular or pulmonary — involves leading a healthy lifestyle.

You need to eat healthy food, drink plenty of water, and take all prescribed medication for your condition.

Smokers, especially, have a higher risk of developing COPD and CVD. That is why it is crucial for people with COPD to avoid triggers like tobacco smoke, fumes, dust, and other air pollutants that may trigger flare-ups.

Consulting a skilled physician can help you manage your COPD symptoms and prevent heart-related complications.

They may recommend pulmonary rehabilitation, a treatment plan for people with COPD to manage their symptoms and lead an everyday life. It can include physical exercise, patient education, emotional support, and prescribed medication.

Medication for COPD includes:

  • Steroid sprays or tablets reduce airway inflammation.
  • PDE4 inhibitors also have anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Bronchodilators open up the patient's airways to make breathing easier.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can COPD cause heart problems?

COPD patients may suffer from lowered oxygen levels due to breathing problems. They can also experience high blood pressure in their lung arteries.

The muscle weakens when the heart frequently pumps blood vigorously to raise oxygen levels. It makes people more susceptible to heart problems. 

COPD can also make people immunocompromised. If you want to learn more, click here.

What are heart problems associated with COPD?

Some heart problems associated with COPD are right-sided heart failure, pulmonary hypertension, and congestive heart failure. When COPD flares up, there is a strain on the heart.

Experts established long ago that COPD impacts the heart, weakening its blood-pumping abilities. It may lead to heart problems in the future as COPD and lung conditions worsen.

How does COPD affect your heart rate? 

The resting heart rate (RHR) among people with COPD increases due to changes in how their hearts work or cardiac autonomic function.

As mentioned earlier, lower oxygen levels and your heart working overtime causes blood pressure and heart rate spikes.

Another factor that affects heart rate is stress. Read this article to learn more about stress and COPD.

What is the normal heart rate for a person with COPD? 

Generally, experts recommend COPD patients aim for a heart rate within the normal range. It is 60 to 100 bpm (beats per minute). Healthier individuals, for instance, generally have lower heart rates because their heart pumps more efficiently. 

However, some studies found that a heart rate above 80 bpm can increase the risk of death in COPD patients.

Does COPD cause congestive heart failure?

COPD may lead to congestive heart failure (CHF). This cardiovascular disease develops when your heart can't effectively pump blood to different body parts.

Since COPD negatively affects the respiratory system, your heart may suffer greatly.

If you want to understand COPD and its effects on your respiratory system, click this link. 

Can COPD cause sudden cardiac death? 

COPD patients have a higher risk of sudden cardiac death. Often, COPD occurs in conjunction with other disease factors, such as hypertension and arrhythmia.

Doctors may recommend lifestyle changes and prescription medicine to avoid severe CVD. They can also include portable oxygen to alleviate symptoms. If you want to discover more about that option, read this article.

Live Your Best Life, Even With COPD

Now that we've answered the question "how does COPD affect the heart," you can feel at ease knowing more about it, how to deal with it, and how to prevent it. 

Receiving a COPD diagnosis may feel like the end of your ordinary world. Lucky for you, it's not!

Despite learning about COPD's possible effects on your lung condition and heart health, living with the disease is possible. 

There are many ways to manage your condition. With the proper physician and equipment, you can live your best life even with COPD.


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