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Have you talked with your doctor about or researched independently the correlation between COPD and heart health? Unfortunately, it’s not just your lungs you need to think about if you live with COPD. When it comes to breathing, your body relies on an intricate system in order to get oxygen in and carbon dioxide out, and at the center of it is your heart. The heart and lungs are inextricably connected, for better or for worse, and as a result, COPD can have an effect on heart health. The good news is that there are a multitude of resources out there, including extensive research that address this connection and provide next steps for anyone with COPD.
Johns Hopkins provides a clear explanation of the connection between the heart and lungs in delivering oxygen and pumping blood:
“What’s the connection? The heart and lungs work together to deliver oxygen to and remove carbon dioxide from the body’s tissues. When you inhale, oxygen enters the blood via little sacs in the lungs called alveoli. The oxygenated blood travels through the pulmonary veins to the left side of the heart, where it is pumped throughout the body. The deoxygenated blood then returns to the right side of the heart and is pumped through the pulmonary arteries to the lungs. When you exhale, carbon dioxide exits your body and the cycle starts again.
But this process can go awry in people with COPD. Low oxygen levels in the alveoli cause the pulmonary arteries to constrict (narrow) and the normally low pressure in the arteries to rise. If the pressure in the pulmonary arteries rises to a sufficiently high level, a condition called secondary pulmonary hypertension develops.”
-Johns Hopkins Health Alerts
Given the role that the heart plays, it should be no surprise that COPD can affect the heart. A revelatory study done in 2010 showed that even mild forms of COPD can “adversely affect heart structure and function”. It had previously been believed that only severe COPD could affect the heart.
Additionally, a study in the American Heart Association Journal Report was able to pinpoint certain issues in the right ventricle of the heart related to COPD and lung problems. Abnormalities such as right ventricular hypertrophy or dysfunction should “heighten the suspicion” of cardiopulmonary disease. Conversely, if such diseases are related to heart abnormalities, then the heart should be monitored extra carefully in cases of COPD.
So what is someone with COPD supposed to do with all this information? Certainly don’t assume too much. COPD does not automatically mean heart problems. But it is reason to be concerned. If you have not researched the topic further, do so. If you have not had conversations with your doctor, do that as well. Having the knowledge that the two are so intricately connected is a step in the right direction. This issue is ongoing and continues to be researched, so it is important to stay informed as more studies are completed and we learn more about COPD and the heart.
There is even one study that finds a way to treat the connection. Researchers from Switzerland found that heart-related therapies could improve quality of life for COPD patients. By monitoring both aspects of this complex system, you will be that much more prepared and ready to treat any issues that might arise.