Not Only My Lungs Part III

Last updated: October 2022

Did you know that COPD affects more than your lungs? I was not ready for that tidbit of information after I was diagnosed (I am currently at stage 3). I thought this disease damaged our lungs and that was it. I mean, that's bad enough but to find out it could really affect me from head to toe, well, that was a true eye-opener.

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

In part one of this three-part series, I discussed several studies about comorbidities and talked about the four most common ones that have been found with all COPD patients. In the second part of this series, I talked about the physical problems related to my COPD. In this third part of the series, I'm going to talk about the mental (and head) comorbidities that can come with COPD.

1. Headaches

Oh, my aching head. I get headaches a lot, especially in the morning. Luckily, most of mine are sinus and allergy headaches and I'm on immunization therapy, allergy medication, and a couple of corticosteroid nasal sprays. So an extra Benadryl and/or migraine medication help me. However, these headaches that we COPDers get can also be from too little or too much oxygen in our blood and/or too much carbon dioxide in our blood.2 Again, to help you with this talk to your doctor.

2. Brain Fog

Some of the comorbidities associated with COPD are mental rather than physical. One I really suffer from is called brain fog. This is where I can't think straight for a moment or two. My mind becomes blank with no warning. I can't think of the word I want to say or I suddenly forget things that I know, such as my address. Thank goodness this doesn't last very long, but it does happen a lot. Part of it is the medications I'm on and part of it is the lower amounts of oxygen in the bloodstream that reach my brain.

3. Depression, anxiety

These are the biggest mental comorbidities I suffer from. I'm not alone. Several studies have been done on this and the rates of depression and anxiety among us COPD patients range from 42 to 79%.3 It's understandable. We have lost our old lives. We are limited in what we can do. We hurt. We can feel lonely. We're scared for the future. I have ways I combat these disorders. They include medication, exercise, a hobby that I love, meditation, and being in nature. I still fall into severe depression and anxiety from time to time but not too often. That's important to me.

So these are the final comorbidities that I have, having COPD. Believe it or not, there are still a few others, like diabetes, osteoporosis, and more. I would urge you again to talk to your doctor or specialist if you have – or think you have – any of these. There are treatments.

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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