They say that no person is an island. I think it is also true that no health condition is an island that sits alone. As people with COPD know, this seems especially true with problems with the heart and lungs. With this being American Heart Month, it is important to understand how these organs interact, especially if you have a COPD flare-up. For our check-in this week, we are going to look at some details about why that is. We are also going to get into a little more detail than usual, so feel free to ask any questions in the comments below!
Last week, we learned more about how the heart and lungs are teammates. Most of the time, the team gets along just fine. But just like with any team, sometimes there is some friction. In the case of Team Cardiopulmonary, things that go wrong in the lungs can make heart problems worse and vice versa. Being short of breath from COPD can make your heart work much harder (especially if you have low oxygen levels). That can lead to a condition called pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure in the arteries between your heart and lungs. Many people with COPD are also at risk for the more common type of hypertension that affects blood vessels in the rest of your body. This kind of high blood pressure also puts you at higher risk for things like heart attacks and strokes. That is why it is so important to make your heart health just as important as your lung health.
Heart-related problems like high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and heart failure also increase your risk of having a COPD exacerbation. If you end up in the hospital with that flare-up, these complications can make your stay up to a week longer, and obviously more expensive. Once you get home, you are also at higher risk for being readmitted within 30 days. That makes it extremely important to stick with your day-to-day heart health plan.
That can be easier said than done, of course. A few years ago, a group of researchers looked at a common medication use to treat high blood pressure called metroprolol. They thought that metoprolol might helpful to people with COPD whether they had heart problems or not. Unfortunately, the results suggested that there was actually a somewhat higher risk of being hospitalized with a COPD exacerbation with metroprolol. (Remember, these results might not be the same for all high blood pressure medicines. You should ALWAYS talk to your health care professional before changing ANY part of your management plan.)
All in all, it is really important to keep your lungs and your heart getting along as much as possible. Your primary care provider may end up consulting with your pulmonologist (lung doctor) and your cardiologist (heart doctor) as time goes on. If so, it is very important that everyone is on the same page with new meds and treatments. It is just as important that you are comfortable with your treatment plan, so never hesitate to ask questions!
Tell us what YOU want to know about the heart-lung connection in the comments!