Even Mild Lung Disease Hurts the Heart

Past evidence has shown that severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can damage the heart. But a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that even mild COPD affects heart function.

COPD is the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are two forms of COPD. Both cause narrowed airways, which make it hard to breathe, and a persistent cough.

A Look at Heart and Lung Function

Researchers assessed heart and lung function of more than 2,800 volunteers who were 61 years old on average and free from heart disease. All were part of an ongoing study about the early stages of heart, lung, and blood diseases.

Based on results from computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, the researchers found that about 15 percent of the study participants had emphysema. Their hearts performed more poorly in pumping blood than those without emphysema.

As the severity of lung disease increased, blood flow from the heart decreased. This was true even in mild cases of disease, which suggests that early-stage COPD affects the heart. Also, the effects of lung disease on heart function were most severe in smokers.

How to Prevent or Manage COPD

Smoking is the number one cause of COPD. The best way to prevent the disease is to not smoke. Talk with your doctor about programs and products that can help you kick the habit.

If you already have COPD, the best way to slow the disease is to quit smoking. Here are some other tips to help manage the disease:

  • Follow your COPD treatment plan carefully and take all of your medicines as prescribed.
  • Ask your doctor about the flu and pneumonia vaccines. These vaccines can lower your odds of getting flu and pneumonia, which are major health risks for people with COPD.
  • Avoid lung irritants that can worsen COPD. These include secondhand smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes, and dust. To do this, stay indoors when air pollution and dust levels are high. Also, don’t stick around your house while having jobs such as spraying for insects or painting done.
  • Contact your doctor if your symptoms worsen or if you have signs of an infection, such as a fever.

To learn more about COPD or connect with others who have the condition, visit the American Lung Association’s Web site.