Understanding COPD: Comorbidities

Comorbidities are two or more diseases existing at the same time in the body. They are common for people with COPD because organ systems work differently when they do not receive enough oxygen. When a resulting condition occurs, it can be considered comorbidity.

Comorbidities are also difficult to manage for people who have COPD. People who have COPD should pay particular attention to their health at all times, and especially when another condition occurs.

Below is a list of common comorbidities. 

Heart Disease

Two heart problems common in people with COPD are pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs) and cor pulmonale (heart failure that results from lung disease). To decrease the chance of developing heart problems, people who are able to should regularly engage in light cardiovascular activity, such as walking, biking or swimming. Exercises in a pulmonary rehabilitation program can provide this cardiovascular activity.


Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens a person’s bones, which puts a person at a greater risk for falls and fractures. Some people living with COPD have other risk factors associated with osteoporosis including smoking, low vitamin D levels and use of steroids for treatment. Women with COPD and osteoporosis are at a greater risk for hip fractures. Weight-bearing and strengthening exercises can help to prevent fractures.


Current research shows that there might be a connection between diabetes and COPD because both conditions involve inflammation. Also, some of the medications used to treat COPD may worsen hyperglycemia, which results in symptoms of diabetes such as blurry vision, frequent urination, thirst and hunger. Following a healthy diet and getting enough exercise can help to prevent or manage diabetes.

Lung infections

People living with COPD may experience frequent lung infections, such as pneumonia. These infections occur because damaged lungs are not able to get rid of and foreign objects as well as healthy lungs.

Quitting smoking and reducing exposure to lung irritants immediately decrease the risk of these types of infections. It is also recommended that all people who have COPD have a pneumonia vaccination as well as an annual flu shot to reduce their risk of infection.


Other conditions that may occur with COPD include anemia, anxiety, cognitive decline, GERD, glaucoma, and sleep disorders. If you experience any of these conditions or have questions about other symptoms, speak with your doctor about possible prevention and treatment options.

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