Bone and Muscle Conditions Linked to COPD

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: July 2015. | Last updated: October 2018

Which bone and muscle conditions are common for COPD patients?

People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have a higher risk of conditions that cause the bones and muscles to get weaker:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Skeletal muscular dysfunction

What is osteoporosis?1

Osteoporosis is a condition that causes the bones of the body to become very weak. Sometimes, the bones can become so weak that everyday activities cause them to break easily.

In the early stages, people who have osteoporosis often do not even know that they have it. Some symptoms include:

  • Becoming shorter or stooped over
  • Back pain
  • Having a bone that fractured very easily

Women are more likely than men to have osteoporosis, and the risk of osteoporosis gets higher as a person gets older.

How is osteoporosis linked to COPD?2,3

Many people with COPD have osteoporosis, although many of them do not even know that they have it. Certain COPD patients are more likely to have osteoporosis:

Steroids are a type of medication often used to treat COPD symptoms. Taking steroids can cause a higher risk of getting osteoporosis. This is one of the reasons that many people with COPD have osteoporosis too.

Cigarette smoking causes an increased risk of getting COPD and of getting osteoporosis. This is another reason that osteoporosis is common in people who have COPD.

COPD patients who are at risk of getting osteoporosis can have the strength of their bones checked regularly by their healthcare provider. This can help detect osteoporosis at an early stage. There are medicines available that can be used to treat it.

What is skeletal muscular dysfunction?4

“Skeletal muscle dysfunction” is the name for a set of symptoms that can affect the muscles of people with COPD. These symptoms are:

  • Loss of muscle strength
  • Loss of muscle endurance
  • Loss of muscle mass

Does COPD affect muscle strength and endurance?4

Muscle strength means how much force a muscle in the body can produce. People with COPD often lose strength in their muscles over time – especially in their leg muscles.

Muscle endurance means the length of time a muscle can work without stopping.
The muscles of COPD patients generally become tired more quickly than people without COPD. COPD patients also tend to lose more muscle endurance over time.

Does muscle strength and endurance affect COPD?4

Losing their muscle strength and endurance can make people with COPD less able to exercise. This is a problem, because getting regular exercise is very important for people with COPD.

Losing muscle strength and endurance can also make the COPD symptom of breathlessness worse. COPD patients with skeletal muscular dysfunction can sometimes have a lower quality of life because of these muscle problems.

What causes skeletal muscular dysfunction for people with COPD?4,5

People with COPD lose muscle strength and endurance because the amount of muscle they have is reduced. Each muscle is made up of millions of tiny fibers. In people with COPD, the fibers get smaller and weaker.

There are many different causes for skeletal muscular dysfunction in people with COPD:

• Systemic inflammation
Poor nutrition
• Taking steroid medications to treat COPD symptoms
• Being physically inactive
• Getting older
• Smoking
• Low levels of oxygen in the blood

Studies show that exercise training can help treat skeletal muscular dysfunction by improving muscle endurance. Exercising and improved endurance can also to help improve a COPD patient’s quality of life.

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