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:
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.
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.
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.
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.