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COPD Comorbid Conditions: Heart Disease, Osteoporosis, and More

WebMD Medical Reference from the COPD Foundation


The Importance of Comorbid Conditions

Most COPD patients have other chronic medical problems as well. These may include high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, depression and cancer. These other conditions are called "comorbidities." In recent years the link between COPD and these other conditions has attracted a great deal of attention. For some reason comorbid conditions seem to be more common in people with COPD than in patients with other medical problems. In one study of over 1,500 COPD patients, those with COPD averaged having four other conditions. Yet the control group, or those without COPD, averaged less than two.1

Several points seem clear:

  • Comorbid conditions are very common in people with COPD.
  • These comorbid conditions often affect symptoms and limitations.
  • Talking about these comorbid conditions during doctor visits can limit time for discussion of COPD itself.
  • Comorbid conditions can increase the risk of hospital stays for COPD patients.
  • Comorbid conditions can lead to death in some cases of COPD.
  • Medicine needed to treat comorbid conditions adds to the daily cost of COPD care.

The COPD Foundation Comorbidity Survey

To better understand the impact of comorbid conditions, the COPD Foundation surveyed 1,000 COPD patients. The results of this survey were published in the American Journal of Medicine in early 2009. Fifty percent had six to ten comorbid conditions and 25 percent had 11 to 15.2


The most common comorbid conditions found in the survey are listed in the table below:

Diagnosis Percent of Women Percent of Men
High blood pressure53%57%
High cholesterol     54%49%
Arthritic complaints77%66%
Heartburn (GERD)68%60%
Sinus complaints65%51%
Sleep apnea25%28%
Angina   20%24%
Heart attack14%27%
Stroke     16%11%
Congestive heart failure7%3%
Cancer    6%4%
Erectile dysfunction-37%

The survey found that those with more comorbid conditions tended to be more short of breath. That is not a surprise. If there are two people with the same severity of COPD, but one also has arthritic pains or cardiac disease, that person will be more limited.

Because of the high number of comorbid conditions these people with COPD reported taking large numbers of medicine. Over 30 percent reported taking 5-10 prescribed medicines daily. Over 25 percent reported taking over 11. These medicines did not even include inhaled medicine for their COPD. Of those surveyed, 72 percent reported taking a COPD medicine, usually a short acting inhaler. In addition 87 percent of patients with COPD and high blood pressure were taking high blood pressure medicine.

And 72 percent of patients with COPD and high cholesterol were taking cholesterol medicine.

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