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A Comprehensive Guide to COPD Complications


Updated June 01, 2009

Have you sufferred from any type of COPD complication? If so, you will have an opportunity at the end of this article to share your experience with others.

COPD complications can be serious and even life-threatening. Proper recognition of signs and symptoms as well as adherence to a medical plan of care is paramount to successful treatment. The following provides a detailed list of the complications of COPD:

1. Cor Pulmonale

Cor Pulmonale
Photo © A.D.A.M.

Cor pulmonale 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.

2. Acute Exacerbation of COPD

Respiratory System
Photo © A.D.A.M.

In its simplest terms, an exacerbation can be defined as a worsening of COPD symptoms. Many people with COPD suffer several episodes of acute exacerbation a year, often leading to increased hospitalizations, respiratory failure and even death.

3. Pulmonary Hypertension

Pulmonary Hypertension
Photo © A.D.A.M.

Pulmonary hypertension occurs when there is abnormally high pressure within the blood vessels of the lungs. Normally, the blood flows from the heart to pass through the lungs, where blood cells pick up oxygen and deliver it to the body. In pulmonary hypertension, the pulmonary artery is thickened. This means less blood is able to flow through the blood vessels.

4. Pneumothorax

Photo © A.D.A.M.

Pneumothorax is defined as the accumulation of air or gas in the space between the lung and the chest wall. 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.

5. Secondary Polycythemia

Normal Red Blood Cells
Photo © A.D.A.M.

Secondary polycythemia is acquired from a rare disorder that is characterized by an overproduction of red blood cells in the blood. When too many red blood cells are produced, the blood becomes thick, hindering its passage through the smaller blood vessels. In patients with COPD, secondary polycythemia can occur as the body tries to compensate for decreased amounts of oxygen in the blood.

6. Respiratory Failure

Respiratory Railure

Respiratory failure occurs when the lungs are unable to successfully extract sufficient oxygen and/or remove the carbon dioxide from the body. Respiratory failure can be caused by a number of reasons, including COPD or pneumonia.

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