From what we know about COPD, it seldom exists in a vacuum. According to the Global Initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease, the impact that the disease has on the life of a COPD patient depends upon the severity of COPD symptoms, and the existence of other illnesses, also known as co-morbid conditions. Current data reports that, in those 65 years of age and older, up to 25% have at least two comorbid conditions, and 17% report three.
Because of these statistics, signs and symptoms of comorbidities are important to recognize and report to your doctor. The following list will help you do just that:
Cor pulmonale is a complication of emphysema, which is caused by an increase in blood pressure in the pulmonary artery, the vessel that carries blood from the heart to the lungs. This leads to enlargement and subsequent failure of the right side of the heart. In COPD, cor pulmonale is caused by prolonged low blood-oxygen levels.
Pneumonia seen in COPD is generally caused by a little bacteria known as Streptococcus pneumoniae. Because COPD patients have a weakened immune system, they are at greater risk of developing bacterial pneumonia. When treated, it is highly curable. Left untreated, bacterial pneumonia has a mortality rate of about 30 percent.
Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a condition that occurs when the heart is unable to pump blood strongly enough throughout the body to maintain circulation. This causes a backup of fluids in both the lungs and the rest of the body. It is not unusual to see a diagnosis of COPD with CHF, especially in the advanced stages of the disease.
Pneumothorax occurs because of a hole that develops in the lung, which allows air to escape in the space around the lung, causing the lung to partially or completely collapse. People who have COPD are at greater risk for pneumothorax because the structure of their lungs is weak and vulnerable to the spontaneous development of these types of holes.
Often caused by recurrent inflammation and infection of the airways, bronchiectasis may be congenital, meaning present at birth, or a person may be predisposed to it as a result of early childhood diseases, such as pneumonia, measles, influenza or tuberculosis. Bronchiectasis is considered an obstructive lung disease, and can either exist alone, or in combination with other forms of COPD.
Gastroesophageal reflux disorder, or GERD, occurs when the spinchter muscle in your lower esophagus doesn't close tightly. This means that any food or liquid that you drink, along with irritating stomach acid, leaks back up into your esophagus. The incidence of GERD appears to be higher among patients with COPD, and studies suggest that GERD doubles the risk of COPD exacerbation. For additional reading on how GERD is associated with COPD, read How Common is GERD in COPD?
9. Lung Cancer
Lung cancer occurs when normal cells within the lung mutate and grow out of control. According to About.com's Lung Cancer Guide, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in men, and second leading cause of cancer death in women worldwide. Because both lung cancer and COPD are primarily caused by smoking, it is not surprising that these two diseases would co-exist.
10. Heart Disease
Heart disease is an umbrella term for a broad range of heart conditions that affect the heart muscle itself, the heart valves, the coronary arteries and the heart's electrical system. Like COPD, heart disease is yet another condition in which smoking is a predominant risk factor, so it is not unusual that COPD patients may also suffer from heart disease.
Sources: Global Initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease. Global Strategy for Diagnosis, Management, and Prevention of COPD. Guidelines for 2009. Reuters Health. COPD may trigger acid reflux problems. 2008, December. Rascon-Aguilar IE, et al. Role of Gastroesophageal Reflux Symptoms in Exacerbations of COPD. CHEST 2006; 130:1096-1101.
Global Initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease. Global Strategy for Diagnosis, Management, and Prevention of COPD. Guidelines for 2009.
Reuters Health. COPD may trigger acid reflux problems. 2008, December.
Rascon-Aguilar IE, et al. Role of Gastroesophageal Reflux Symptoms in Exacerbations of COPD. CHEST 2006; 130:1096-1101.