You probably already know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. However, you may not realize that the third leading cause is chronic lower respiratory diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). What’s more, you may not realize that the two are often connected, and that the symptoms they cause can be strikingly similar. Shortness of breath, for instance, is a hallmark sign that is often associated with both of these conditions.
Shortness of Breath from Heart Failure
Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a condition that occurs when the heart becomes too weak to effectively pump blood out to the rest of the body. In turn, fluid levels build up and blood can back up into both the heart and lungs, leading to shortness of breath. For most CHF patients, difficulty breathing does not occur when they are at rest, but even small amounts of exertion can cause symptoms to begin.
Shortness of Breath from COPD
Similarly to CHF patients, those with COPD will most commonly notice their shortness of breath when physically active. The conditions which cause COPD such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema result in irritation and damage to airways or the air sacs in the lungs where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged. When someone with COPD exhales, this damage prevents oxygen from being fully released before the next breath is drawn in, resulting in shortness of breath.
Comorbidity of COPD and Heart Failure
COPD and congestive heart failure are two different conditions that may present with similar symptoms. However, there are two other forms of heart failure, left-sided and right-sided, which may be directly related to or exacerbated by the presence of COPD. Here’s how:
COPD and Left-Sided Heart Failure
There is not a direct connection between COPD and left-sided heart failure. However, the two conditions can exist together and exacerbate one another. COPD can cause low oxygen levels in the blood, thereby placing additional stress on the heart and worsening symptoms of left-sided heart failure. On the other hand, left-sided heart failure can contribute to fluid buildup in the lungs, aggravating the symptoms of COPD.
COPD and Right-Sided Heart Failure
In severe cases of COPD, the condition can actually cause the development of right-sided heart failure. This occurs when low oxygen levels due to COPD cause a rise in blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs, a condition known as pulmonary hypertension. This increase in pressure places excess strain on the heart’s right ventricle as it works to pump blood through the lungs. As a result, the heart muscle weakens and right-sided heart failure can occur.
COPD and heart failure are both dangerous health conditions, and while they often occur independently, it is also important to understand the connections between the two. If you have previously been diagnosed with COPD, you should be aware of the increased risk of heart failure. And, if you are a smoker, you need to understand that you are at a higher risk for developing both of these diseases. In any case, the medical expertise of a cardiologist should be sought in order to monitor existing conditions and help ensure heart health.