Why COPD and Heart Failure Go Hand-in-Hand

Studies suggest that COPD and heart failure frequently coexist. Is this because having one places you at greater risk for the other? Or could it be that they share a common risk factor? Here's how COPD and heart failure are linked.


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What Is Heart Failure?

Heart failure, a chronic condition in which the heart pumps inefficiently over a long period of time, often leads to a host of related symptoms and complications. Similar to COPD, people with heart failure can be relatively stable, or they can experience exacerbations of heart failure—when the heart doesn't function properly and symptoms worsen.

Heart failure is among the most prevalent of all heart conditions, occurring when the heart is no longer able to pump an adequate supply of blood to the cells, tissues, and organs of your body. There are many heart conditions that can lead to heart failure, including coronary artery disease and valvular heart disease

Confusing the Symptoms

According to research, almost 15.7 million Americans have COPD, and five million have chronic heart failure. Despite the fact that both share smoking as a common risk factor, the sheer number of people who are diagnosed with either condition likely explains why they commonly co-exist.

Unfortunately, sometimes people who have both conditions don't realize it, since the symptoms can be similar. For example, when a patient who doesn't have existing lung disease visits the healthcare provider complaining of shortness of breath and/or fatigue during exercise, they are likely to undergo a host of cardiac imaging tests designed to help the practitioner establish a diagnosis of heart failure.

On the other hand, when a patient with stable COPD, meaning they are not experiencing COPD exacerbation, complains that they are experiencing shortness of breath or fatigue when trying to exercise, the healthcare provider may attribute the symptoms to COPD.

If You Think You Have Heart Failure

Because the symptoms of heart disease and heart failure frequently overlap with symptoms of COPD, it's important that you pay close attention to your body and report any of the following findings to your healthcare provider:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Heart palpitations
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Fatigue, lethargy, or daytime sleepiness
  • Muscle wasting
  • Dyspnea, orthopnea, or paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea
  • Swelling in the lower extremities (more common in heart failure)

Just like COPD, early diagnosis of heart disease or heart failure is important. The earlier you're diagnosed, the earlier you can seek treatment.

Untreated heart problems can worsen your COPD symptoms and your overall prognosis. In fact, people with both conditions often fare worse, having longer hospital stays and a higher mortality rate than people who have COPD or heart problems alone.

Differing Treatment 

Treatment for heart disease or heart failure differs from treatment for COPD, which is why it's so important to be diagnosed properly. The advancement of medical science lends itself to a number of excellent treatment options for heart disease and heart failure.

Another treatment option that patients are strongly encouraged to participate in is cardiopulmonary rehabilitation. The treatment has been found to reverse the skeletal muscle abnormalities that accompany these conditions and can ultimately improve your prognosis.

If you are a COPD patient who's also been diagnosed with heart failure, talk to your healthcare provider today about starting a physical exercise training program or a formal cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program in your area.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Zeng Q, Jiang S. Update in diagnosis and therapy of coexistent chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic heart failureJ Thorac Dis. 2012;4(3):310–315. doi:10.3978/j.issn.2072-1439.2012.01.09

  2. Cooper LB, Mentz RJ. COPD in heart failure: are there long-term implications following acute heart failure hospitalization?Chest. 2015;147(3):586–588. doi:10.1378/chest.14-2081

  3. de Miguel Díez J, Chancafe Morgan J, Jiménez García R. The association between COPD and heart failure risk: a reviewInt J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis. 2013;8:305–312. doi:10.2147/COPD.S31236

Additional Reading
  • Jelic, Sanja MD, Le Jemtel, Thierry H. MD, Padeletti, Margherita MD. Diagnostic and Therapeutic Challenges in Patients With Coexistent Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Chronic Heart Failure. American College of Cardiology Foundation. Vol. 49, No. 2, 2007. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2006.08.046.
  • Jelic, Sanja MD, Le Jemtel, Thierry H. MD. Diagnostic Usefulness of B-Type Natriuretic Peptide and Functional Consequences of Muscle Alterations in COPD and Chronic Heart Failure. CHEST 2006; 130;1220-1230. DOI 10.1378/chest.130.4.1220.

By Deborah Leader, RN
 Deborah Leader RN, PHN, is a registered nurse and medical writer who focuses on COPD.