If you have COPD, it may be difficult to tell whether you also have
heart failure (HF). This is because the two diseases have similar
symptoms and common risk factors.
Even for health care providers, it can be difficult to diagnose HF in
people with COPD, and vice versa. If you have COPD, you’re also at
increased risk for developing HF. And if you have both diseases, it’s
especially critical to follow your treatment plan.
It helps to know a bit about how the two diseases are linked. With HF,
the heart can’t pump enough blood throughout the body. This can happen
for a variety of reasons. One is severe lung disease, such as COPD. When
the lungs don’t function properly, the heart must work harder to get
whatever oxygen is available to the body. Over time, this extra work can
damage the heart.
HF can also result from other kinds of heart and blood vessel diseases.
For example, high blood pressure puts stress on the heart by making it
pump harder to move blood throughout the body. When fatty deposits build
up inside the arteries, less blood may reach the heart muscle, which can
cause damage. And when a heart attack occurs, part of the heart muscle
dies. This puts strain on the remaining heart muscle. Drinking too much
alcohol for a long period of time may also damage the heart.
Once HF develops, the weakened heart can’t pump out blood fast enough.
As a result, blood returning to the heart may back up in the veins. When
this happens around the lungs, it can cause shortness of breath and
fatigue. Other symptoms include a long-lasting cough and coughing up
mucus. Of course, these are also signs of COPD.
It’s no surprise that the same management strategies are often good for
both of these diseases:
Quit smoking, if you haven’t already. Smoking is a major risk
factor for HF and COPD. Kicking the habit is one of the most
important steps you can take for your heart and lungs.
Exercise as advised by your provider. Activities such as walking
and riding a bike can help build strength and stamina.
Follow your treatment plan and take your medicine as prescribed
to help relieve symptoms of both COPD and HF and prevent them
Educate yourself. The more you know about these conditions, the
better prepared you’ll be to manage your symptoms.
Track your weight. Contact your provider if you have sudden
weight gain of three or more pounds.
Report any worsening of breathlessness or fatigue to your
For more information, call 1.866.CALL.MLH.