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What is the Link Between COPD and Pneumonia?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD is one of the leading causes of fatalities across United States in both males as well as females. Researchers believe that this number is only going to increase in the coming years. The Center for Disease Control mentions that COPD rose through the ranks and become the third largest cause of fatalities in the United States way back in 2008. In addition to that, the World Health Organization mentions that COPD and other lower respiratory tract infections were right on top when it came to leading causes of fatalities worldwide [1].

In addition to COPD, Pneumonia is yet another condition affecting the lungs that is a cause of fatalities around the world. However, this condition is well below to where COPD stands in terms of leading causes of fatalities around the world but is right on top when it comes to pneumonia taking lives in the United States. Majority of the people who lost their lives due to pneumonia were above the age of 65. Pneumonia is also a cause of excessive strain and financial burden to the families of the patients and studies estimate that over $10 billion are spent every year for treatment and care of people with pneumonia [1].

This makes it very important to understand the link between pneumonia and COPD for better management of the condition. COPD make it difficult for the individual to breathe normally and in turn increases the risk for the individual developing pneumonia. In majority of the cases, people with COPD who go on to develop pneumonia ultimately succumb to this disease. This article describes in detail the link between COPD and pneumonia [1].

What Is The Link Between COPD and Pneumonia?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD affects the way the lungs and the airways work. This affects the breathing ability of the affected individual. COPD can be described by two conditions namely emphysema and bronchitis. Emphysema destructs the alveoli or the air sacs in the lungs thus making it difficult for the patient to breathe. Due to this difficulty, the levels of oxygen in the body decreases which affects the functioning of various vital organs of the body [2].

Chronic bronchitis on the other hand causes inflammation in the tubes which carry oxygen to the lungs. There is also increased secretion of mucous in people with chronic bronchitis. COPD is mainly seen in people who are active smokers although there have been a few cases where even nonsmokers have been diagnosed with this condition [2].

Pneumonia on the other hand is an infection of the lungs wherein the air sacs in the lungs become inflamed and are filled with fluid. This infection can be bacterial, viral or parasitic. Because of the fluid in the air sacs breathing becomes very difficult causing depleted levels of oxygen in the blood causing malfunctioning of vital organs of the body which often at times can be fatal. Studies estimate that pneumonia takes the lives of approximately 50,000 people in the United States every year [2].

The link between COPD and pneumonia is that COPD makes the respiratory system extremely weak. This predisposes the individual to developing pneumonia. People with COPD have a severely compromised immune system making them vulnerable to various infections. Additionally, the airways also become very narrow which further increases the chances of developing pneumonia [2].

A study conducted on the association of COPD with pneumonia indicated that 12% of the participants with COPD went on to develop pneumonia within a span of three years of the diagnosis. Among the people who developed pneumonia from COPD, 12% of them had fatal complications. People with COPD who go on to develop pneumonia in majority of the cases require hospitalization and it takes longer than usual for them to recover from the infection. The chances of them developing serious complications during this period are also extremely high when compared to the normal population [2].

It is often very difficult to distinguish between COPD and pneumonia. This is because the symptoms of COPD flares, peaks, and then fades away only to pop up again and often the clinical features are very similar to that of pneumonia. Thus if an individual develops sudden problems with breathing then a consultation with a physician is mandatory. It is also important to have knowledge of the symptoms of pneumonia so that a clear difference can be established between COPD and pneumonia [2].

An individual with COPD who develops pneumonia will have problems with breathing accompanied by fever, chills, and muscle pains. There will be severe pain in the chest when breathing. The individual will also have bouts of diarrhea along with nausea and vomiting. The energy levels of people with pneumonia are also extremely low with even simple tasks becoming a challenge for them to complete. The stark difference between the symptoms of pneumonia and COPD is that the symptoms of pneumonia continue to worsen while that of COPD will wax and wane with time [2].

In conclusion, there is a clear link between COPD and pneumonia in that people with COPD are extremely vulnerable to developing pneumonia with time. This is because COPD makes the immune system weak. This predisposes the individual to getting various bacterial and viral infections which forms the basis for development of pneumonia [1, 2].

A study conducted on people with COPD showed that 12% with this condition went on to develop pneumonia within a three year time span and 12% of those who developed pneumonia had life threatening complications from it. This proved a clear link between these two lung disorders. It is also vital from a patient point of view to have knowledge of the symptoms of pneumonia as it becomes sometimes very difficult to differentiate between COPD and pneumonia [2].

An individual with pneumonia will have distinct fever, chills, muscle pains, and extremely low levels of energy. It will be very difficult for the individual to perform any basic task easily. Moreover, the symptoms of pneumonia will continue to worsen unlike COPD where the symptoms flare and then fade away after some time. Thus it is mandatory for any individual to get checked with a physician if he or she has sudden onset difficulty breathing to rule these conditions out or start treatment for it [2].


Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 14, 2019

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