COPD: When Lungs Break, the Heart Often Follows

 “To breathe is to live, and without breath there is no life” is a basic tenet of yoga. Nothing is more apparent for those who struggle to breathe.

If you suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also referred to as COPD, every single breath can be a struggle. COPD is a serious health condition that narrows airways and makes it very difficult to breathe. Over time, it can get worse. Once there is damage to the lungs, it can’t be corrected.

Congestive heart failure is another very serious condition that is tied to COPD. The lungs and heart are very closely connected. When healthy, the lungs and heart work together to make sure that every part of your body is getting the oxygen it needs. When they aren’t getting oxygen, they can work against each other to make your health get worse quickly. Low oxygen in the blood caused from COPD can put too much strain on the heart, worsening heart failure. Excess fluid in the lungs from heart failure can also make breathing even more difficult for someone with COPD.

It may not be the only condition you’re living with.

You could also have other conditions that co-exist with your COPD. These can include depression, sleep apnea, lung cancer, asthma and even diabetes. A sudden illness, such as pneumonia or the flu, can also become serious for people with COPD. Your doctor will have to monitor the medicine you take for all your conditions to make sure they do not cause your COPD or any of the other health problems, to become worse.

Smoking is the main cause of COPD. If you quit smoking, it can help prevent complications that smoking will cause, and help slow down the progress of the disease.

If you are a smoker, and find you are having a hard time breathing, you should talk with your doctor. Your doctor may need to screen you for COPD. Also talk to your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit smoking.

Other causes of COPD include:

  • Indoor air pollution from cleaning products, burning wood in fireplaces, or scented candles
  • Heavy exposure to dust and chemical fumes in the workplace
  • Asthma
  • Frequent respiratory infections, especially during childhood
  • Heavy or long-term exposure to secondhand smoke and other air pollutants

Try to avoid these irritants. For example, if your home is being painted or sprayed for insects, have it done while you are away for a while. Keep your windows closed and stay indoors when pollen counts or ozone rates are high.

Follow your treatments for COPD exactly as your doctor orders. It can help you breathe easier, stay more active, and avoid or manage severe symptoms. Talk with your doctor about whether and when you should get flu and pneumonia shots. These vaccines can lower your chances of getting these illnesses. Both are major health risks for people who have COPD.

Call your doctor if you notice that your symptoms are worse or if you have signs of an infection, such as a fever. Your doctor may change or adjust your treatments to relieve and treat symptoms.

Seek emergency help if your medicine isn’t working and:

  • It is unusually hard to walk or talk
  • Your heart is beating very fast or irregularly
  • Your lips or fingernails become gray or blue
  • Your breathing is fast and hard, even when you are using your medicine

Probably the two most important things you can do if you have COPD are to quit smoking and get ongoing medical care. Being under the care of a doctor who can track your illness will set you up for success in managing your COPD. Quit smoking now, and find a PCP who can help to monitor your health!

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