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What Do People with COPD Say About Their Other Health Conditions?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: October 2019 | Last updated: August 2020

Living with COPD can be challenging enough for most people. But many people with COPD also cope with one or more other medical issues. Our 2019 COPD In America survey asked 2,007 people about a range of issues related to their COPD, including any other health conditions they might have. We found that almost all of our respondents also dealt with other health conditions.

Comorbidity is the medical term for having one or more added health issues with the main condition.

The people who answered our survey were 70 percent female and 30 percent male with an average age of nearly 68.

COPD and what else?

The survey asked people “Have you been diagnosed with any of the following health conditions in addition to COPD?” The most common health issues people in our survey manage in addition to COPD are:

  • 41 percent - high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • 39 percent - allergies
  • 37 percent - respiratory infections
  • 34 percent - arthritis (osteoarthritis)
  • 33 percent - high cholesterol
  • 31 percent - anxiety or panic disorders
  • 30 percent – GERD (acid reflux)
  • 30 percent – pneumonia
  • 28 percent – overweight/obesity
  • 24 percent – asthma
  • 23 percent – osteoporosis

It is not surprising that 3 of the 11 most common secondary health issues also impact the lungs.

Since the health of our lungs, heart, and blood vessels are interconnected, it also makes sense that many heart and blood vessel issues coexist with COPD. The most common added health conditions were:

  • 17 percent – cardiovascular
  • 15 percent – numbness in the fingers/hands and feet/toes (neuropathy)
  • 14 percent – diabetes
  • 10 percent – atrial fibrillation (Afib)
  • 9 percent – heart failure

COPD and cancer

The survey also asked “Have you been diagnosed with any of the following cancers? (Select all that apply).” About one-third of the people who took our survey had also been diagnosed with cancer. Of those, skin cancer was the most common type, with 13 percent saying they had skin cancer. The next most common cancers were lung (6 percent), breast (4 percent), prostate (3 percent) and bladder (2 percent).

Life with more than one health condition

Navigating life with one chronic health condition can be tough, let alone two or three. Some tips to help you manage life with multiple conditions include:

  • Educate yourself. The internet makes it easier than ever to learn about your health. By educating yourself, you can help your doctor better manage all of your conditions. It may also help you feel more in control of your life if you understand what is happening with your body.
  • Stick to the plan. Your doctor will give you many suggestions for how to take care of yourself given your COPD and other health issues. Try to follow their advice as closely as possible. You may need to take pills at certain times of the day, get a certain amount of exercise, or keep follow-up doctor’s appointments. The closer you stick to the plan, the more likely you will find success.
  • Find a partner in crime. It may be hard to remember everything you need to do to stay as healthy as possible. Do not be afraid to ask for help. A friend or family member probably will be happy to call or text you reminders, help you organize paperwork, or go to doctor visits with you.
  • Invest in tools. Many tools exist to help you take care of yourself. Pill dispensers can be high-tech or low-tech, with the most advanced ones sending a message to loved ones if you forget a dose. Other helpful tools include walkers that make it easier to stay active
  • Try to focus on the positive. It can be highly annoying for someone who is not sick to chirp, “Stay positive!” However, try to focus on what you can do rather than what you cannot. This may help you maintain a healthy and grateful mindset while coping with COPD.

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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 COPD.net 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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