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COPD and Your Heart

Thursday, 02 June 2016 04:16 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Because chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is such a serious respiratory condition, people with it tend to be focused on their lungs. Though this is understandable, that kind of tunnel vision may result in irreparable harm to the hearts.

There is a direct connection between healthy lungs and a healthy heart. Here’s how it works.

When you inhale, oxygen travels down your windpipe into your lungs. It then goes through bronchial tubes that branch into smaller tubes called bronchioles. These lead to alveoli, or air sacs.

The walls of the alveoli are very thin, enabling oxygen to enter the blood through them. From there, the oxygenated blood travels through the pulmonary veins to the left side of the heart to be pumped throughout the body.

After the blood is deoxygenated in the tissues, it returns to the right side of the heart, where it is pumped through the pulmonary arteries once again to the lungs. When you exhale, carbon dioxide exits the body and the cycle starts again.

But when lung function is impeded by COPD, the extra strain on the heart can result in two serious conditions: secondary pulmonary hypertension and congestive heart failure.

Secondary pulmonary hypertension — also called pulmonary high blood pressure — occurs within the lungs.

Ordinarily, blood flows easily from the heart to the lungs. However, when the oxygen levels in the small tubes called bronchioles fall due to COPD, the normally low pressure within the lungs’ arteries begins to rise.

If the pressure rises high enough, secondary pulmonary hypertension occurs. (The condition is termed “secondary” because it has arisen due to another disease — in this case, COPD).

With pulmonary hypertension, the right side of the heart is forced to work harder to push the blood through pulmonary arteries into the lungs. Over time, this can cause the heart’s lower chamber, the right ventricle, to become thick and enlarged.

The heart’s pumping action can then weaken, resulting in heart failure.

COPD can cause heart failure on either the left or right side. If it happens on the left side of the heart, fluid can build up in the lungs, as well as the other organs and the arms and legs, resulting in fatigue and shortness of breath. This condition also increases the risk of blood clots in the lungs.

Right-side heart failure is a more common consequence of COPD. In that case, fluid builds up in the arms and legs, but not as much in the lungs. This condition is known as “cor pulmonale.”
Symptoms of cor pulmonale begin with shortness of breath and lightheadedness during activity. Later, it can also result in chest pain, swelling of the feet and ankles, and wheezing.

People with COPD are also at greater risk for dangerous heartbeat irregularities such as atrial fibrillation, which increases the risk of stroke.

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Thursday, 02 June 2016 04:16 PM
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