Not Only My Lungs Part I

Last updated: October 2022

Did you know that COPD affects more than your lungs?

There's a term for this: Comorbidity

A comorbidity is a disease or condition that exists along with the primary disease a patient has, like COPD. Sometimes they are related, or the symptoms are similar, or they share an impact on each other.1 [For a more in-depth look you can go to the COPD Foundation article.]

I did some research, as I do, and found out that since I'm a COPD patient there's really no surprise that I have other medical problems and diseases/conditions. Most COPD patients do. Lucky us. A study recently published in the journal Multidisciplinary Respiratory Medicine found that nearly 79% of people with COPD have at least one comorbidity.2 The American Thoracic Society published another article that noted several studies have been done and though the numbers vary, it is clear that if you have this disease, you are very likely to have another. In fact, according to Maple, et al, researchers found that the average number of comorbidities for patients was 3.7.3 Unfortunately for me and other women, we are more likely to have them than men.4

Why do we get these additional diseases and conditions? Well, to be honest, no one really knows. Since a lot of the comorbidities share the same risk factors like age, medications, smoking, and diet, it makes it harder to diagnose the causes. But the COPD community has more – and at a much higher rate – of coexisting diseases than the general public.5

So what are these diseases? I'm listing the top four most common ones in this article. They make up the highest percentage of co-diseases we get with COPD. There are more, though, and I will talk about those in Part II and Part III, including the many that I have. If you suspect you might have any of these, talk to your doctor or specialist.

1. Cardiac diseases

The most common one is cardiovascular disease6 and men tend to have it, along with irregular heartbeat and pulmonary heart failure, more than women. Women do get high blood pressure and congestive heart failure more, though. Smoking increases the risk for all of these.

2. Cancer

Lung cancer is the next common COPD comorbidity but there is also breast cancer, esophageal cancer, and pancreatic cancer. According to Dr. Umur Hatipoglu, director of the COPD Center at the Respiratory Institute at Cleveland Clinic, “These are all related in some form and magnitude to smoking.”7


Gastroesophageal reflux disease also shows up more with COPD patients. According to a study done by Mokhlesi and coworkers, those of us patients with an FEV1 less than or equal to 50% has a higher rate of GERD than those of us with an FEV1 more than 50%.8

4. Pneumonia

I don't think anyone is surprised that pneumonia is a common comorbidity for us. It kind of seems like it comes with the territory. Some consider pneumonia as another kind of COPD exacerbation, but if you have pneumonia with an exacerbation, the symptoms will come on faster, be worse, and last longer, perhaps with a hospital stay as well.9

These are the most common of COPD comorbidities, but they're not the only ones. More include rib cramps; costochondritis; stomach – bloating; feet/ankles swelling; headaches; weight; mind – depression, anxiety; muscle weakness; sleep apnea; and memory problems. The rest of these I'm going to go over in Part II and Part III of this series because, hey, I have them all.

Again, if you want more information or are concerned please talk to your doctor.

Interested in more articles like this? Check out the rest of the series!

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

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