Within the top five leading causes of death in the United States, you’ll find heart disease and chronic lower respiratory diseases (this includes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD]). While the two diseases are completely different and totally separate, they are often connected and have very similar symptoms.
Shortness of Breath
Breathing problems, like feeling breathless, happen for different reasons within the two conditions:
Shortness of Breath from Heart Failure
Under the umbrella of heart failure is a disease called congestive heart failure (CHF). CHF is a condition that occurs when the heart is too weak to pump blood to the rest of the body effectively. When this happens, fluid levels can build up and blood can get backed up in the heart and lungs. This causes shortness of breath. Breathing difficulties are typically not experienced by those with CHF when resting. Rather exercise and activity (be it large or small amounts of exertion) can cause this feeling to begin.
Shortness of Breath from COPD
Like those living with CHF, people living with COPD will often notice feeling breathless when exercising or being physically active. The difference, however, is that the conditions that cause COPD (like chronic bronchitis or emphysema) have damaged or caused irritation to the airways and the alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs. The damage caused by these conditions is what prevents oxygen from being fully released before taking in the next breath, causing a feeling of breathlessness.
COPD and Heart Failure
As previously mentioned, COPD and CHF are two completely separate and different conditions that can cause similar symptoms. With that said, the two can simultaneously be present. There are two other forms of heart failure: right-sided heart failure and left-sided heart failure. Both can be exacerbated by COPD.
COPD and Right-Sided Heart Failure
Severe cases of COPD can actually cause the development of right-sided heart failure. This happens because COPD causes low oxygen levels that cause rising blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs (AKA pulmonary hypertension). Pulmonary hypertension places much strain on the heart’s right ventricles as it tries to pump blood through the lungs. Because of this, muscles on the right side can weaken and right-sided heart failure can occur.
COPD and Left-Sided Heart Failure
While there is not a direct connection between COPD and left-sided heart failure, the two conditions can occur at the same time and aggravate each other. COPD causes low oxygen levels in the blood which adds much stress on the heart. This can worsen left-sided heart failure symptoms. Alternatively, left-sided heart failure can contribute to fluids building up in the lungs which can exacerbate COPD symptoms.
Each of these conditions is extremely dangerous to your health. If you have been diagnosed with COPD, it is important to remember that you are at an increased risk of developing heart failure. If you are a smoker, you should be aware that you are at an increased risk of developing both of these diseases. Be sure to seek medical attention if you have any questions or concerns about your COPD or heart failure.