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COPD and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: What Is the Link?

COPD and type 2 diabetes are both chronic illnesses that have had an increasingly severe impact on the health of our nation in the past few decades. A recent study took a look at different factors surrounding each of these diseases. It also examined what links, if any, there might be between these two chronic health issues.1

Key facts about Type 2 Diabetes and COPD

First, let’s do a comparison of these two common diseases.

Type 2 Diabetes (T2 DM)

Here’s what you need to know about T2 DM:2,3,4,5

  • Metabolic disease
  • Associated with high blood glucose levels, inability to use insulin properly (insulin resistance), and low levels of insulin
  • More than 30 million Americans have diabetes; 90% or more have T2 DM
  • Many more probably have diabetes or prediabetes, but have not yet been diagnosed
  • Prevalence has increased greatly in the past few decades
  • 7th leading cause of death

COPD

And here is a reminder about some of the same facts as relates to COPD:1,6,7,8

  • Disease of inflammation, now believed to be generalized throughout the body
  • Associated with chronic airflow obstruction and other breathing-related problems
  • Affects more than 16 million people in the U.S., most of them age 45 or older
  • At least 12 million more have COPD but have not yet been diagnosed
  • Prevalence has increased worldwide by more than 44% during the last 3 decades
  • 4th leading cause of death, but expected to be the 3rd within the next decade

How they are related

COPD is well-known to be linked to a number of other chronic conditions, including T2 DM. In fact, about 10 to 20 percent of people who have T2 DM also have COPD. Studies also show that 19% of COPD patients without pre-existing T2 DM developed it within 10 years. Plus, COPD patients who also have T2 DM tend to have poorer health outcomes.1

Researchers for the study mentioned above did a review of the literature and found a number of other studies that provided evidence of an increasing link between the two diseases. Experts are not sure why yet. But they suspect it may have something to do with the systemic (body-wide) inflammation that COPD causes.1

Other possible factors in this link between COPD and T2 DM could have to do with:

  • Obesity
  • Oxidative stress
  • Chronic hypoxia (low levels of oxygen in the tissues and cells)
  • Reduced airway muscle function
  • Smoking, a risk factor in both cases
  • Genetics
  • Effect of chronic high blood glucose on lung function

Current treatments for both diseases tend to focus more on managing symptoms than their underlying causes.

Takeaways from the study

Since so many people can have COPD and/or T2 DM without realizing it, researchers emphasize the importance of diagnosis and then proper management. They emphasize:

  • Endocrinologists (diabetes doctors) need to measure lung function in their patients with T2 DM
  • Pulmonologists (lung doctors) need to screen for T2 DM in their COPD patients
  • When both conditions are known to exist, doctors need to work together to ensure better outcomes in their patients

More study is needed to increase our understanding of the links between type 2 diabetes and COPD, and the best way to manage the diseases.

If you have COPD, but have never been tested for type 2 diabetes, consider discussing this with your doctor. The symptoms of T2 DM are often so mild, they’re hard to notice. So, they are not a reliable sign that something is wrong. Screening is the only way to know for sure.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The COPD.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Mamillapalli, C., Tentu, R., Jain, N. K., & Bhandari, R. (2019). COPD and Type 2 Diabetes. Current Respiratory Medicine Reviews, 15. doi:10.2174/1573398x15666190211155640
  2. Type 2. (n.d.). Retrieved June 10, 2019, from http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/type-2/
  3. Type 2 Diabetes | Basics | Diabetes | CDC. (n.d.). Retrieved June 10, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/type2.html
  4. Statistics About Diabetes. (n.d.). Retrieved June 10, 2019, from http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/statistics/
  5. Data & Statistics | Diabetes | CDC. (n.d.). Retrieved June 10, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/data/
  6. CDC - COPD Home Page - Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). (n.d.). Retrieved June 10, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/copd/index.html
  7. Summary Health Statistics: National Health Interview Survey, 2016. (2016).
  8. Thomas, J. (2018, September 21). COPD: Facts, Statistics, and You (G. Krucik, Ed.). Retrieved June 10, 2019, from https://www.healthline.com/health/copd/facts-statistics-infographic#4

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