Complications of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease


About complications: Complications of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease are secondary conditions, symptoms, or other disorders that are caused by Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. In many cases the distinction between symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and complications of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is unclear or arbitrary.

Complications list for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: The list of complications that have been mentioned in various sources for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease includes:

Complications of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: COPD also makes the heart work much harder, especially the main chamber on the right side (right ventricle) which is responsible for pumping blood into the lungs. As COPD progresses, the amount of oxygen in the blood decreases which causes blood vessels in the lung to constrict. At the same time many of the small blood vessels in the lung have been damaged or destroyed as a result of the disease process. More and more work is required from the right ventricle to force blood through the remaining narrowed vessels. To perform this task, the right ventricle enlarges and thickens. When this occurs the normal rhythm of the heart may be disturbed by abnormal beats. This condition, in which the heart is enlarged because of lung problems, is called cor pulmonale. Patients with cor pulmonale tire easily and have chest pains and palpitations. If an additional strain is placed on the lungs and heart by a normally minor illness such as a cold, the heart may be unable to pump enough blood to meet the needs of other organs. This results in the inability of the liver and kidneys to carry out their normal functions which leads to swelling of the abdomen, legs, and ankles.

Another adjustment the body makes to inadequate blood oxygen is called secondary polycythemia, an increased production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. The larger than normal number of red blood cells is helpful up to a point; however, a large overpopulation of red cells thickens the blood so much that it clogs small blood vessels causing a new set of problems. People who have poor supply of oxygen usually have a bluish tinge to their skin, lips, and nailbeds, a condition called cyanosis.

Too little oxygen and too much carbon dioxide in the blood also affect the nervous system, especially the brain, and can cause a variety of problems including headache, inability to sleep, impaired mental ability, and irritability.1

1. excerpt from COPD: What Goes Wrong?: NHLBI

Last revision: May 26, 2003

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