Not Only My Lungs Part III

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!

Does your COPD affect other parts of your body? Write about your experience in our forums here!

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.
View References
  1. Howley, E. K. (2017, November 10). What Complications or Comorbidities Are Associated With COPD? Retrieved from https://health.usnews.com/health-care/patient-advice/articles/2017-11-10/what-complications-or-comorbidities-are-associated-with-copd
  2. Dal Negro, R., Bonadiman, L., & Turco, P. (2015, August 05). Prevalence of different comorbidities in COPD patients by gender and GOLD stage. Retrieved from https://mrmjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40248-015-0023-2
  3. Martinez, C. H., Mannino, D. M., & Divo, M. J. (2014). Defining COPD-Related Comorbidities, 2004-2014. Retrieved from https://journal.copdfoundation.org/jcopdf/id/1022/Defining-COPD-Related-Comorbidities-2004-2014
  4. Chatila, W. M., Thomashow, B. M., Minai, O. A., Criner, G. J., & Make, B. J. (2008, May 01). Comorbidities in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2645334/
  5. Catalfo, G., Crea, L., Castro, T. L., Lio, F. M., Minutolo, G., Siscaro, G., . . . Aguglia, E. (2016, February 4). Depression, body mass index, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – a holistic approach. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4755693/

Comments

View Comments (5)
  • Ginny13
    3 weeks ago

    For years I thought I was lucky because as a female I liked the fact that my weight was going down slowly over the years even after having numerous children. I had always been over-weight in school (My peak weight was 195).
    After finding out about my COPD and caring for it properly….my weight started coming back . Now my doctors say I am Pre-Diabetic in addition to other issues.
    I feel like I can’t win most days.

  • Barbara Moore moderator
    3 weeks ago

    Hi Ginny13, I am hopeful that you will discuss these changes with your doctor and have a frank talk about what is happening. It takes some of the scary away when the doctor tells you why this is happening and what to do about taking care of yourself. sometimes it is small changes that can make the difference. There are lots of management techniques to help you. Barbara (Site Moderator)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 weeks ago

    Hi again, Ginny13, and thanks for your post. We hear you, too. You may want to discuss your concerns further with your physician. For some people, COPD may be associated with other medical conditions. It’s always best to understand as much as one can about their conditions, especially when there is more than one. It helps to manage them effectively in concert with your physician. All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • jewelln
    4 months ago

    I have a lot of anxiety. It comes from worry about whether or not I will be able to do an activity or several activities, like when family comes for a few days visit – can I keep up. How should I plan meals so they are easy for me. etc.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    4 months ago

    Hi jewelln and thanks for your post. There is an entire community here who understands how you feel and knows what you are going through. Anxiety related to the very activities you mentioned can be very common for people with COPD, so you are not alone, here! It can be a lot easier when and if you have assistance at home, and family members who understand your condition and are understanding of the various limitations that can crop up unexpectedly. I thought you might find it helpful to look over this article about ‘meal planning’, since that is an expressed concern of yours: https://copd.net/living-with-copd/pulmonary-rehab/weight-management/meal-planning/.

    Please know we are here to assist you in any way that we can. Wishing you the best, Leon (site moderator)

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