Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an umbrella term for a group of conditions that affect the airways, causing difficulty breathing. When the lungs do not function as well as they should, it can impact other systems in the body, including blood pressure.

In many cases, COPD has an adverse effect on blood pressure. Typically, COPD causes the airways to thicken, reducing the amount of oxygen getting to the lungs. This may cause the arteries around the lungs to narrow. If they narrow too much, high blood pressure can occur.

High blood pressure in the blood vessels connecting the heart and lungs, known as pulmonary hypertension, can be life threatening. Airflow limitation due to COPD can also affect the wider circulatory system, causing high blood pressure across a range of bodily systems.

In this article, we discuss how COPD affects blood pressure and the other health complications it can cause.

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The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease states that hypertension, or high blood pressure, is likely to be the most frequently occurring comorbidity in people living with COPD. The exact mechanism for why people with COPD have an increased risk of developing hypertension is not completely clear, but chronically low oxygen levels appear to be a factor.

COPD causes impaired gas exchange in the lungs, limiting oxygen intake and carbon dioxide release. This leads to decreased blood oxygen levels in the body. As a result of low oxygen levels, the arteries may narrow, which can increase blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries.

The increased pressure in the pulmonary arteries puts added stress on the heart, which makes it work harder. This combination can cause blood pressure to increase.

A 2019 study involved 75 people with COPD and 45 participants in a control group without COPD. The study measured blood pressure using a 24-hour Holter monitor. Results indicated that nighttime blood pressure levels were significantly higher in people with COPD than in the control group.

The severity of COPD may also play a role in the risk of high blood pressure. One test used to determine the stage of COPD is a forced expiratory volume (FEV1) measurement. This test measures the volume of air a person can blow out of their lungs in 1 second. A 2014 paper notes that airflow limitation measured through the FEV1 has been found to indicate an increased risk of high blood pressure.

COPD refers to a group of lung diseases including chronic bronchitis and emphysema. All types of COPD occur due to lung damage and inflammation of the airways.

People with COPD have lungs that become inflamed and airways that may narrow due to damage. When this happens, the body must work harder to take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide.

According to the American Lung Association, COPD is the third most common cause of disease-related death in the United States.

Blood pressure is the force of the blood on the arterial wall with each beat of the heart. It is measured in two numbers.

The first number indicates the pressure the blood exerts against the arterial walls when the heart beats. This is known as systolic pressure.

The second number indicates the amount of pressure the blood exerts against the arterial walls when the heart rests between beats. This is known as diastolic pressure.

Hypertension occurs when blood pressure measurements are consistently higher than normal. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), systolic pressure over 130 and diastolic pressure over 80 indicate high blood pressure. High blood pressure can increase a person’s risk of a heart attack and stroke.

There are several ways to try and maintain healthy blood pressure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the following lifestyle tips may help to keep blood pressure in a healthy range:

  • Do not smoke, and attempt to quit if you currently smoke.
  • Maintain a moderate weight.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol intake.
  • Eat a diet low in salt and saturated fat and high in fiber and protein.

COPD can lead to several health complications. People with advanced COPD tend to have more complications than people with early disease. Having COPD puts a person at an increased risk of the following conditions:

  • Congestive heart failure: Congestive heart failure (CHF) develops when the heart cannot pump blood effectively throughout the body. The damage to the lungs from COPD makes the heart work harder, which may lead to CHF.
  • Frequent infections: People with COPD have an increased risk of developing lung infections, such as pneumonia. When individuals with COPD develop lung infections, they are also at a higher risk of life threatening symptoms.
  • Depression and anxiety: The American Lung Association suggests that anxiety and depression occur more often in people with COPD as opposed to the general population.
  • Sleep apnea: Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) involves brief periods where a person stops breathing during sleep. About 11–19% of people with COPD also have OSA.
  • Osteoporosis: Smoking, one of the main causes of COPD, can also impact bone density. Additionally, many people with COPD take steroids to help decrease airway swelling. Prolonged steroid use increases the chance of developing osteoporosis.

Anyone experiencing symptoms of COPD should contact their doctor. Early symptoms include a persistent cough and excess mucus production. COPD generally worsens over time, but with good management, it is possible to slow the progression.

Managing COPD well may decrease the risk of complications. It is also helpful to see a doctor for routine monitoring of blood pressure. Identifying high blood pressure early can reduce the likelihood of stroke.

COPD appears to influence blood pressure. COPD occurs due to damage and impaired functioning of the lungs, resulting in difficulty breathing. The condition leads to chronically low oxygen levels in the body, which can affect other bodily systems.

Over time, this can make the heart work harder and increase blood pressure. Making healthy lifestyle choices, such as exercising regularly, not smoking, and eating a diet low in saturated fat, can help with maintaining healthy blood pressure.