A heart with lots of valves branching off in different directions

Cardiovascular Conditions Linked to COPD

What cardiovascular diseases are linked to COPD?

It is common for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to have medical conditions that involve the cardiovascular system. The cardiovascular system includes the heart and all of the blood vessels that carry blood throughout the body.

Cardiovascular diseases that are linked to COPD are:

  • Ischemic heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Heart failure

What is ischemic heart disease?

Ischemic heart disease is called IHD for short. It is also called “coronary artery disease” or “coronary heart disease.”1,2

The “arteries” are the blood vessels that deliver blood to the heart. IHD happens when the arteries become too narrow. They usually become narrow because of a buildup of a fatty substance called “plaque.”

When the arteries become too narrow, not enough blood can flow to the heart. A heart attack can happen if an artery becomes completely blocked by the plaque and blood cannot flow to the heart.

People with COPD who have IHD usually get the same kind of treatment as people without COPD. Treatment can involve medications called beta-blockers or different kinds of surgery.

What is high blood pressure?

High blood pressure is also called “hypertension.” Blood pressure is the force of blood as it pushes against the walls of the blood vessels when the heart pumps. High blood pressure happens when the pressure rises and then stays high instead of dropping back down. If it is not treated, high blood pressure can cause serious problems such as stroke or heart failure.1,3

High blood pressure is one of the most common conditions that people with COPD also have. One reason is that they have some of the same causes, such as smoking. Up to half of the people with COPD also have high blood pressure.

COPD can also cause people to have a slightly different kind of high blood pressure. It is found in the blood vessels that bring blood into the lungs, instead of the heart. This kind of high blood pressure is called “pulmonary hypertension.”

People with COPD who have high blood pressure usually get the same kind of treatment as people without COPD. Medicine and lifestyle changes can help people have lower blood pressure.

What is atrial fibrillation?

People with COPD have an increased risk of atrial fibrillation, called AF for short. AF is a type of problem with the rate and rhythm of a person’s heartbeat. AF happens when the heart beats too quickly and in an irregular way.1,4

AF means that blood is not moving through the heart in the usual way. Because the heartbeat is irregular and too quick, the heart is not able to pump enough blood through the body. Because AF can sometimes cause more serious heart problems, it is important to treat it.

People with COPD usually get the same treatment for AF as people without COPD. AF is often treated with medicines that help make sure the heart beats in a regular rhythm.

What is heart failure?

Heart failure happens when the heart is not able to pump the amount of blood through the body that it needs to function well. This might mean that the heart is not able to fill up with enough blood. It might also mean that the heart is not strong enough to pump blood throughout the entire body.1,5

Heart failure can be very dangerous if it is not treated. However, having heart failure does not actually mean that a person’s heart has stopped working entirely. It just means that the heart is not working well enough for the body to be healthy.

Symptoms of heart failure can include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Tiredness
  • Swelling in different parts of the body

Around 30% of people with COPD have heart failure as well. COPD patients with heart failure usually get the same treatment as patients without COPD. Treatment for heart failure often includes medicines to treat its cause, which might be IHD, high blood pressure, or diabetes. Heart failure can also be treated with lifestyle changes, such as:

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Written by: Anna Nicholson | Last reviewed: July 2015.