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COPD and Heart Failure

The Impact of Both Diseases on Prognosis

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Updated April 14, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

COPD and Heart Failure

COPD and Heart Failure

A.D.A.M.
Studies suggest that COPD and heart failure frequently coexist. Is this because having one places you at greater risk for the other? Or, could it be that they share a common risk factor? Let's explore this topic a bit further to find out.

The Meaning of the Term "Heart Disease"

The term heart disease is often used to describe a number of conditions that affect the heart, but most often refers to coronary artery disease (CAD), the most common form of heart disease (and one of the most deadly).

In CAD, plague builds up in the walls of your coronary arteries. Over time the buildup worsens, eventually leading to partial or complete blockage of the vessels. Because the coronary arteries are the primary vessels that supply oxygen-rich blood to your heart, an obstruction of these vessels can lead to serious, significant health problems, including heart failure and heart attack.

Learn more about CAD and what you can do about it from About.com's Heart Disease Guidesite.

What Constitutes Heart Failure?

Heart failure is among the most prevalent of all heart conditions, occurring when the heart is no longer able to pump an adequate supply of blood to the cells, tissues and organs of your body. There are many heart conditions that can lead to heart failure, including, as previously noted, coronary artery disease and valvular heart disease. Learn more about the different types of heart failure.

Heart failure, a chronic condition in which the heart pumps inefficiently over a long period of time, often leads to a host of related symptoms and complications. Similar to COPD, people with heart failure can be relatively stable, or they can experience exacerbations of heart failure, when the heart doesn't function quite properly, and symptoms worsen.

Why Do COPD and Heart Failure Frequently Co-Exist?

According to research, 14 million Americans have COPD, and 5 million have chronic heart failure. Despite the fact that both share smoking as a common risk factor, the sheer number of people who are diagnosed with either condition explains why they commonly co-exist.

COPD and Co-Existing Heart Failure: What's the Problem Here?

Now that we know that COPD and heart failure are two conditions that are often encountered together, is it safe to assume that both conditions are easily recognized, diagnosed, and treated properly? The answer to this question may surprise you.

When a patient who doesn't have existing lung disease visits the doctor complaining of shortness of breath and/or fatigue during exercise, she is likely to undergo a host of cardiac imaging tests designed to help the doctor establish a diagnosis of heart failure. Conversely, when a patient with stable COPD (meaning she's not having a COPD exacerbation) complains that she's experiencing shortness of breath or fatigue when trying to exercise, the doctor is likely to attribute her symptoms to COPD, and many times, won't order cardiac imaging tests. Not only does this delay a diagnosis of co-existing heart failure, if present, but it also delays the patient's getting treatment for heart failure, which can lead to serious complications that can affect a patient's prognosis.

What To Do If You Think You May Have Heart Failure?

Because the symptoms of heart disease and heart failure frequently overlap with symptoms of COPD, it's important that you pay close attention to your body and report any of the following findings to your doctor:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Heart palpitations
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Fatigue, lethargy or daytime sleepiness
  • Muscle wasting
  • Dyspnea, orthopnea, or paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea
  • Swelling in the lower extremities (more common in heart failure)

Just like COPD, early diagnosis of heart disease or heart failure is important, because the earlier you're diagnosed, the earlier you can seek treatment. Untreated heart problems can worsen your COPD symptoms and your overall prognosis; in fact, people with both conditions often fare worse than people who have COPD or heart problems alone.

Treatment for Heart Disease and Heart Failure

Treatment for heart disease or heart failure differs from treatment for COPD, which is why it's so important to be accurately diagnosed with either, or both, of these conditions. The advancement of medical science lends itself to a number of excellent treatment options for heart disease and heart failure. Learn more about your treatment options by reading the following:

Prognosis of COPD and Co-Existing Heart Failure

According to clinical research, having COPD and heart failure concurrently negatively impacts your prognosis, meaning how long you'll live after being diagnosed with these conditions. People with both conditions who are hospitalized tend to have longer hospital stays and a higher mortality rate compared to those who are hospitalized for COPD or heart failure alone. Furthermore, the compounding effects of both COPD and heart failure on your skeletal muscles lowers your ability to function, and increases the likelihood that your condition will deteriorate and you'll have to be hospitalized. How can you improve your prognosis?

The Benefits of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation

People with COPD and co-existing heart failure are strongly encouraged to participate in a cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program. Doing so can literally reverse the skeletal muscle abnormalities that accompany these conditions and ultimately improve your prognosis.

If you are a COPD patient who's also been diagnosed with heart failure, talk to your doctor today about starting a physical exercise training program or a formal cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program in your area.

Sources:

Jelic, Sanja MD, Le Jemtel, Thierry H. MD. Diagnostic Usefulness of B-Type Natriuretic Peptide and Functional Consequences of Muscle Alterations in COPD and Chronic Heart Failure. CHEST 2006; 130;1220-1230. DOI 10.1378/chest.130.4.1220.

Jelic, Sanja MD, Le Jemtel, Thierry H. MD, Padeletti, Margherita MD. Diagnostic and Therapeutic Challenges in Patients With Coexistent Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Chronic Heart Failure. American College of Cardiology Foundation. Vol. 49, No. 2, 2007. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2006.08.046.

Fogurus, Richard N. MD. Heart Health Center. About.com.

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