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How can you tell if it is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or heart failure that is causing breathing problems?

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If you have both COPD and heart failure and find yourself short of breath, it can be hard to tell which condition is causing your breathing problems. Your doctor may give you a:

Every case is different. Some people have severe COPD and only mild heart failure. Others have severe heart failure and only mild COPD. In these cases, the more severe condition is more likely to be the cause of breathing symptoms.

If COPD and heart failure are equally severe, doctors must make their best guess as to which condition is causing your symptoms.

To make things even more complicated, COPD and heart failure can at times act up at the same time. For example, if you have worsening heart failure symptoms that cause rapid breathing, this can make COPD symptoms worse, as well.

  • Physical examination. Listening to your lungs and heart, and looking at the veins in your neck, can help your doctor tell the difference between COPD and heart failure.
  • Chest X-ray. Heart failure may cause fluid in your lungs to be visible on a chest X-ray. With COPD, your lungs are usually clear or may look like they’re over-inflated.
  • Brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) test. You usually have high levels of this hormone in your blood if you have heart failure, whether or not you also have COPD.
  • Pulmonary function test. Doctors can use breathing tests to diagnose COPD.
  • Echocardiogram. This is an ultrasound test of your heart that can evaluate the heart chambers, valves, and pumping strength.
  • Cardiac enzymes. This blood test can help diagnose a heart attack or too much strain on your heart.

SOURCES:

Libby, P. W.B. Saunders, 2007. Braunwald's Heart Disease 8th Edition,

Mason, R. , 5th edition, Saunders, 2010. Murray and Nadel’s Textbook of Respiratory Medicine

Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on December 28, 2018

SOURCES:

Libby, P. W.B. Saunders, 2007. Braunwald's Heart Disease 8th Edition,

Mason, R. , 5th edition, Saunders, 2010. Murray and Nadel’s Textbook of Respiratory Medicine

Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on December 28, 2018

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What are treatments for severe shortness of breath from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or heart failure?

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