Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Increases Risk for Cardiovascular Disease

L. Normal Lungs; R. COPD Lungs

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States and all over the world. It is a term used to describe progressive incurable lung diseases that include emphysema, chronic bronchitis and refractory (non-reversible) asthma. COPD is a disease that leads to more and more breathlessness. People afflicted with COPD literally are struggling more and more to breathe. COPD also causes chronic coughing, spitting up mucus, wheezing and a feeling of tightness in the chest. COPD is caused by long-term exposure to air pollutants, mainly tobacco smoke. Further, up to 80% of patients with COPD have at least one other serious disease such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, heartburn and depression.


COPD causes flare-ups called exacerbations when their symptoms worsen and they are often hospitalized. Viral infections like colds and influenza are often the triggers that lead to exacerbations. According to a study published in CHEST in 2010, exacerbations also increased systemic inflammation and put people at risk for cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes. The researchers discovered that when people with COPD needed more antibiotics or corticosteroids indicating they were having an exacerbation, they were at an increased risk for a cardiovascular event like:

  • Cardiovascular death
  • Myocardial Infarction (MI)
  • Unstable angina
  • Transient ischemic attack
  • Stroke 30 days after the exacerbation

For those who required hospitalization, the risk for stroke more than doubled 30 days after the exacerbation. The most common type of stroke associated with COPD was ischemic (thrombotic type).

Prevention of COPD

A small percentage of people get COPD due to genetic and environmental factors. However, the main preventable risk factor for COPD is smoking cigarettes and smoking is also the main preventable risk factor for heart disease, cancer and strokes that are listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the first, second and fifth common causes of death in the United States.

The 10 Leading Causes of Death in the United States:

Heart disease: 633,842
Cancer: 595,930
Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 155,041
Accidents (unintentional injuries): 146,571
Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 140,323
Alzheimer’s disease: 110,561
Diabetes: 79,535
Influenza and pneumonia: 57,062
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 49,959
Intentional self-harm (suicide): 44,193

Patients Must be Encouraged to Quit Smoking

The researchers suggest that patients who are hospitalized for either a stroke or COPD should get intensive education for quitting smoking.

Flu Shots

Since people with COPD are at high risk from influenza the CDC recommends that they get vaccinated to prevent the flu.

Treatment of COPD

The first step should be to quit smoking. COPD may be treated with short and long-acting bronchodilators, inhaled corticosteroids, oral steroids, antibiotics and other medicines. As COPD advances, patients may need oxygen therapy and have to be close to an oxygen tank. In fact, they may need to carry around with them a lightweight portable oxygen tank. At this advanced state, quality of life may be greatly affected. People with COPD usually have to move to a home without stairs as they cannot climb stairs.

Most Long-term Residents are COPD/Cardiovascular

Since COPD has a high risk for cardiovascular events, it is not surprising that in many skilled nursing care facilities they make up the majority of the long-term care residents. Most are not there just for COPD alone, but because they have also had a stroke or a heart attack. So they are lung/heart or lung/brain and they need all kinds of skilled nursing and respiratory care.

The Respiratory Wellness Program at Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse, New York

If you are looking for a Long-term Skilled Rehabilitation and Nursing facility that is experienced with COPD/cardiovascular, choose one like the Van Duyn Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse, New York that has an excellent Respiratory Wellness Program. Also, Syracuse  and Onondaga County are in an area of relatively clean air and are ranked by the American Lung Association as one of the cleanest cities and counties in the United States for short-term particle air pollution.


It is truly unfortunate that all of this suffering could be prevented if people did not smoke.

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