Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a group of diseases that cause blocked airways and breathing problems. However, it can also cause weight loss for several different reasons.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.

Symptoms of COPD include chronic cough, chronic phlegm, and shortness of breath.

However, about 25–40% of people living with COPD experience weight loss. This weight reduction can lead to muscle loss and a decline in quality of life.

People who have COPD can take steps to prevent weight loss. This article will explain the relationship between COPD and weight loss and offer tips to help people with COPD manage their weight.

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When a person loses weight due to COPD, doctors refer to it as COPD wasting.

COPD wasting means the person is losing muscle mass, which can cause weight loss and reduced function.

Malnutrition due to lack of appetite

The COPD Foundation states that loss of appetite is the most common cause of weight loss for people with COPD.

The loss of appetite can be the result of difficulty breathing. People with COPD have also reported other factors that have affected their appetite, including:

  • food not tasting as good as it used to
  • COPD medications lead to a lack of hunger
  • preparing meals is too tiring

The COPD Foundation say that lack of appetite can result in an unhealthy cycle:

  1. The body breaks down muscle to use for fuel because it is not getting enough nutrients.
  2. Muscles, including breathing muscles, become weaker.
  3. A person has difficulty breathing.
  4. Someone with a reduced appetite does not take in enough nutrients.

Learn more about malnutrition here.

Higher metabolic rate

People with COPD also have to work harder to breathe, which increases their metabolic rate. The combined effect can cause unwanted weight loss.

A person living with COPD needs about 430–720 extra calories a day to accommodate for the extra work it takes to breathe.

Learn about metabolism-boosting foods here.

Mental health difficulties

The American Lung Association also states that people living with COPD are more likely to develop depression and anxiety than people without the condition.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, depression can lead to weight loss as well, which means a person living with both COPD and depression may experience unwanted weight loss for this reason, too.

Any person experiencing mental health challenges may benefit from seeking help from their doctor or mental health specialists.

Learn about the types of mental health resources available here.


In a 2016 study, researchers found that the severity of a person’s COPD affects their weight loss.

Their results indicate that only severe cases of COPD lead to a person being underweight.

If a person has a milder case of COPD, they are more likely to be overweight.

Learn more about COPD and diet here.

As with any sudden weight loss, there are several possible health complications.

Nutritional deficiency

One concern of being underweight and not eating enough is nutritional deficiency.

In a 2015 study, researchers found that nutritional therapy may be an effective treatment tool.

With proper nutrition, a person’s overall prognosis and quality of life can improve.

Learn about nutrition and the role of a nutritionist here.

Muscle atrophy

Not getting enough calories and nutrients may also lead to muscle atrophy, which is the loss of muscle tissue.

When muscle atrophy occurs, it can make everyday tasks more difficult.

A 2018 study showed that muscle atrophy in people with COPD could affect a person’s quality of life and their prognosis.

Learn about other conditions that cause muscle atrophy here.

A person living with COPD who has experienced weight loss can take steps to help maintain or gain weight.

The COPD Foundation recommends a person eat a balanced diet that includes whole, unprocessed foods low in cholesterol, salt, saturated fats, trans fats, or added sugars.

Learn tips on gaining weight safely here.

Adding more calories

People who need to gain weight need to add more calories to their diet in a balanced manner.

Below are some tips to increase calorie intake. :

  • use date syrup or honey to sweeten drinks and food
  • put peanut butter in snacks and sandwiches
  • mix in a teaspoon of olive oil into hot foods
  • drink smoothies with nut butter, berries, or added proteins
  • eat high calorie snacks, such as:
    • walnuts
    • olives
    • dried fruits
    • almonds

Learn about 19 foods to gain weight safely here.

Eating habits

The American Lung Association provides some guides to help make eating and weight gain a bit easier. In addition to recommending a balanced diet, they suggest a person:

  • eats 4–6 smaller meals a day
  • eats larger meals earlier if fatigue is worse later in the day
  • rests and relaxes before eating
  • limits liquids during meals and drink afterward
  • avoids foods that cause bloating or gas
  • considers using supplements at bedtime

A person should talk with their doctor or treatment team if they struggle to maintain their weight.

Doctors may help the person come up with additional strategies to help them get more calories and maintain a higher quality of life.

Learn about what and what not to do to gain weight.

A person living with COPD may find that maintaining a moderate weight is difficult.

A person needs to work with their treatment team to figure out the best strategies to help them maintain and, if necessary, gain weight.

Maintaining good nutrition can help a person maintain a higher quality of life and help prevent comorbidities and death.

A person living with COPD may experience weight loss as their condition worsens.

Weight loss is often the result of a loss of appetite. A person with COPD also uses up more energy to breathe.

However, depression and other factors can also contribute to weight loss.

A person should eat a balanced diet, add higher-calorie foods as needed, and work with their treatment team on strategies to maintain or regain their weight.

Maintaining weight can help a person feel like they have more energy, prevent complications, and improve their overall prognosis.