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New Study Finds Increased COPD Risk in “Metabolically Healthy” Obese People

092021image006A new study from the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing indicates that “healthy obesity” is a myth, as even those individuals who are considered metabolically healthy are at a higher risk of developing heart and respiratory diseases including COPD.

Metabolic health refers to things like whether a person has high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and high blood sugar, which are common issues that arrive in cases of obesity. Researchers found that metabolically healthy obese adults still had a 28% greater chance of developing a respiratory disease and 19% more likely to suffer COPD compared to their healthy non-obese counterparts.

The study, published in Diabetologia, looked at the association between metabolically healthy obese (MHO) and all-cause mortality, type 2 diabetes, heart attack and stroke, heart failure and respiratory diseases including COPD. The authors analyzed more than 11 years of data of 381,363 participants in the UK Biobank project who were classified as metabolically healthy non-obese (MHN), metabolically unhealthy non-obese (MUN) and MHO.

They found that MHO individuals were generally younger, watched less television, exercised more, had higher education level, lower deprivation index, higher red and processed meat intake, and were less likely to be male and non-white than participants who were MUO. Yet, when compared to MHN participants, they were 4.3 times more likely to have type 2 diabetes, 18% more likely to suffer heart attack or stroke, and had a 76% higher risk of heart failure.

Their findings led researchers to conclude that people with MHO “are not ‘healthy’ as they are at higher risk of heart attack and stroke, heart failure, and respiratory diseases compared with people without obesity who have a normal metabolic profile.”

“Weight management,” they add, “could be beneficial to all people with obesity irrespective of their metabolic profile. The term ‘metabolically healthy obesity’ should be avoided in clinical medicine as it is misleading, and different strategies for defining risk should be explored.”

Added Insights from Dr. Nair: As we saw with the COVID-19 pandemic, obesity can lead to some degree of immunocompromise, making one more susceptible to illness. Excessive weight can have negative effects on a patient’s overall health in many ways. Thus, controlling one’s weight can help improve quality of life for those with COPD.

Read more on the findings on Eureka Alert.

Poverty Impacts Respiratory Health

092021image002Despite dramatic reductions in adult smoking rates, vastly improved air quality, a plethora of safety mandates and other advances, low-income Americans continue to suffer from COPD and other respiratory illnesses at a disproportionately higher rate than their wealthier counterparts. The reason, according to a recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine, is likely socioeconomic.

Working with health examination survey data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over the past 60 years, researchers examined three types of pulmonary outcomes – respiratory symptoms, respiratory diagnoses, and spirometry results – in children ages 6-17 years and adults aged 18-74 years. They also assessed trends in current/former smoking prevalence. Socioeconomic status, this was defined by family income and (for adults) educational achievement, which was included in the CDC survey data.

What they found was that “many income-based gaps in indicators of lung health persisted or potentially worsened despite secular improvements in air quality, occupational safety, tobacco control, and medical care – and in average lung function – suggesting that the benefits of these advances have not been equitably enjoyed.”

Researchers noted that multiple factors likely contribute to these disparities. Among these are unequal exposure to cigarette smoke, air pollution, workplace hazards, pulmonary infections, in utero exposures, premature birth, nutritional deficiencies, and other factors. 

They concluded that, despite overall improvements in air quality and occupational exposures, individuals with lower socioeconomic status and racial/ethnic minorities still encounter more unhealthy exposures on the job and live in more polluted neighborhoods.

“Destitution also increases individuals’ susceptibility to air pollution, possibly owing to interaction with other harmful exposures or chronic illness. Finally, unequal access to health care may play a role; good medical treatment of airway disease can improve symptoms and lung function,” they wrote, noting that these disparities “are likely clinically significant…suggesting that the widening disparities we found could contribute to the growing income-based inequalities in US life-expectancy.”

Added Insights from Dr. Nair: Socioeconomic status is, on its own, just one of many factors that can affect one's ability to stay healthy. 

Read the full study in JAMA Internal Medicine and coverage in The New York Times.

Supporting A Loved One with COPD

May2021image008Caring for a loved one struggle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an extremely difficult job – one that you may doubt that you can handle. But being there for your loved one, offering your support and encouragement, can go a long way toward improving their quality of life and easing some of their symptoms.

And while it can be hard to watch someone you love suffer with an uncurable disease, there are things you can do to make things a little bit easier on them.

  • Get them to quit smoking — Tobacco smoke is the primary cause of COPD. If someone continues to smoke after they have been diagnosed, talk to them about quitting or research nicotine replacement therapies and local support groups on their behalf. If you smoke, set a good example by quitting, especially since secondhand smoke is equally harmful.
  • Be their exercise buddy — Gentle exercise can improve a COPD sufferer’s breathing and strengthen their respiratory muscles. After clearing it with their doctor, invite your loved to take short walks around the neighborhood, gradually picking up the pace each time.
  • Stay healthy —Respiratory infections can worsen COPD symptoms, so it is important to avoid spreading germs to a patient or loved one. Get an annual flu shot and keep your distance if you have a cold or any other illness. If you get sick while living with someone who has COPD, disinfect all surfaces, don’t prepare their food and always wear a mask.
  • Keep indoor air clean — Reducing air pollution at home can help someone cope with their COPD. Avoid using strong-scented cleaning products and stay away from air fresheners or plug-ins. Also be aware of what you put on your body — strong perfumes, lotions or hairspray can trigger a COPD flare-up.
  • Help make their house COPD-friendly — The simplest task can cause breathlessness in those living with COPD, so taking steps such as installing a shower chair can help a loved one conserve energy. Assisting with meal preparation and keeping their house free of any dust and debris that can make breathing difficult are also helpful.
  • Accompany them to a doctor’s appointment — People with COPD have a lot on their mind, which can make it hard to remember everything a doctor tells them. Go along with them to appointments and take notes or bring along a tape recorder so nothing important is missed.
  • Educate yourself — Learning more about COPD will help you better understand what a loved one is going through and their limitations. The more you know, the more encouraging and supportive you will be.
  • Recognize signs of distress — No one wants to burden loved ones, which is why people with COPD aren’t always honest about how they feel. Teaching yourself to identify ailments such as heart problems, respiratory infections or depression lets you know when it’s time to encourage a loved one to seek medical attention.

Added Insights from Dr. Nair This article has some nice points but also some things with which I disagree. I don't like emphasizing that COPD is incurable. Aside from infections, diseases with surgical treatment (e.g., appendicitis) and many cancers, most diseases required some concession to be made to control them, whether it be taking medications, eating healthier or making lifestyle changes. COPD is no different. In fact, when you think about it, most ailments don't just disappear – they are, for all intents and purposes, uncurable. The key is you can live with them even if they aren’t curable. 


I particularly like the emphasis on the significant burden caregivers carry, and the importance of self-care. If you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of others.

Read the complete Healthline story to learn more about taking care of a loved one living with COPD.

How Singing can help COPD Sufferers

May2021image004There are several different medications and treatments that ease the symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). But according to one English study, singing can help soothe this savage beast of a condition without a prescription.

Those who participated in the study, conducted by England’s Canterbury Christ Church University, sang in weekly 60-minute sessions for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, researchers found that participants’ lung function maintained or improved, and COPD didn’t progress.

Researchers theorize that singing allows COPD patients to inhale without anxiety and take deeper breaths that clear their lungs more efficiently. Participants also got an emotional boost, reporting that the sessions lifted their spirits, promoted relaxation and reduced anxiety and depression – all of which can be very helpful in coping with COPD.

Andrea Paul, MD, Chief Medical Officer at www.boardvitals.com, recommends COPD patients participate in 30-minute singing sessions a few times a week.

“It is truly fantastic to be able to offer these patients an option that is not only free, but also fun,” she Paul.

Added Insights from Dr. Nair: Singing involves controlling your breathing pattern, which is very important with this disease. The “O” in COPD stands for obstruction – especially airflow OUT of your lungs. The most important thing when short of breath is to remember to breathe out slowly because it allows more time for air to be exhaled. 

Read the complete blog on Philips for more information on how singing can help ease symptoms associated with COPD.

The Four Stages of COPD

May2021image002It is estimated that 174 million people suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and 3 million will die from it each year. Depending on how far it has progressed, COPD can be divided into four stages, ranging from Stage 1 (very mild) to Stage 4 (extremely severe).

These classifications are based on the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease, or GOLD, system, which is a program started by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and World Health Organization. GOLD grades COPD based on the results of a spirometry test, which measures the strength and speed each time a person exhales, combined with subjective measures of symptom severity.

Your doctor will look at two specific numbers from the spirometry test: 1) FVC, or force vital capacity, which is the total amount of air you breathe out, and 2) FEV1, or force expiration volume in one second, which is the amount you can breathe out in one second. A FEV/FVC ratio of less than 0.7 indicates COPD. Symptom severity is typically determined using either the British Medical Research Council (mMRC) questionnaire or the COPD Assessment Test (CAT).

It is the combination of these findings that determines the stage of COPD. Each stage has a unique set of symptoms and treatments, as outline below.

Stage 1: Symptoms are so mild that most people see no difference in their lung function. Your doctor may recommend a bronchodilator medication to open your airways. Lifestyle changes will also be encouraged, such as quitting smoking — the top cause of COPD — and avoiding secondhand smoke.

Stage 2: Symptoms worsen to the point where people typically seek medical attention. Coughing and mucus production become more severe, and you may experience shortness of breath when exercising or walking. Doctors will typically recommend pulmonary rehabilitation during this stage to learn how to better manage your COPD. Steroids and oxygen are also often prescribed to mitigate dangerous flare-ups.

Stage 3: Symptoms are so severe that patients may not be able to do simple chores and often can’t leave the house. Flare-ups will become more frequent. Shortness of breath and coughing will worsen. Additional symptoms in this stage include frequent colds, swollen ankles, and wheezing. Most patients will be prescribed an oxygen tank to assist with their breathing.

Stage 4: Oxygen blood levels are very low, and the risk of developing heart and lung failure is very high. Flare-ups are more frequent and can sometimes be fatal. Treatment includes surgical intervention such as a lung transplant or a bullectomy, where large areas of damaged air sacs in the lungs are removed.

Added Insights from Dr. Nair: Everyone’s disease trajectory will be unique, so don’t allow yourself to get pigeonholed into any particular category or defined by any number. The bottom line is to lead the best life you can, regardless of stage.


Read the complete story on Healthline to learn more about the stages of COPD.

The COPD-Lung Cancer Link

April21image008A recent study shows that people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are twice as likely to get lung cancer, while another found that 77% of lung cancer patients with COPD lived five years post-cancer diagnosis compared to 91% of those without COPD.

Once you are diagnosed with COPD, it is important for you and your doctor to pay close to attention to any signs indicating lung cancer. Though the two conditions have similar symptoms, such as coughing and difficulty breathing, there are subtle difference. As such, if you are experiencing one or more of the following symptoms, you should call your physician as soon as possible:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Chest pain unrelated to coughing
  • Hoarseness
  • Bronchitis, pneumonia, and other recurring lung infections
  • Coughing up blood or mucus marked with blood
  • A nagging cough — even a dry one — that won’t go away

Read the complete Healthline story for more on COPD and its relationship to lung cancer.

Ten Healthy Tips for Living with COPD

April21image006There is currently no cure for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, living a healthy lifestyle can help improve your quality of life by strengthening your body while keeping your respiratory system out of harm’s way and preserving your lung capacity.

Here are 10 ways COPD sufferers can improve their health.

  1. Quit smoking — Smoking isn’t good for anyone. But if you have COPD, quitting is one of the best and healthiest decisions you can make. Doing so won’t cure or reverse the effects of COPD, but it can slow its progression and make breathing easier. Your doctor can prescribe medications to help reduce cravings and offer nicotine replacement therapies. It is also important for COPD sufferers to minimize their exposure to secondhand smoke.
  2. Stay active — Because their breathing is limited, COPD sufferers may be worried about having enough lung capacity to work out. While you may not be able to run a marathon, there are gentle workouts that can improve respiratory strength and breathing. Short walks, gentle stretching exercises and other activities that won’t irritate breathing are great starting points — however, it is important to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
  3. Eat a healthy diet — Eating a healthy, balanced diet can stimulate weight loss, making it easier for COPD sufferers to breathe. Eat small, lighter meals throughout the day and avoid foods that make you feel gassy or bloated because those side effects can exacerbate breathing problems.
  4. Stay hydrated — Drinking water thins out mucus, which helps prevent it from building up in your lungs. A good goal is to drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses per day, though check with your doctor to establish a good goal for you. Be careful not to drink too much water, though, because it can make you full and make breathing more difficult.
  5. Improve indoor quality — Because secondhand smoke can be just as toxic as inhaling straight from a cigarette, it is important to ban smoking in your home. It is wise to steer clear of cleaning products and perfumes that have strong odors, which can make breathing difficult. Vacuuming carpets regularly and using an air purifier are good ways to reduce airborne pollutants and irritants indoors, but make sure both have HEPA (high-efficiency particulate absorbing) filters.
  6. Get a flu shot — Because respiratory infections can make COPD worse, it is important to check with your doctor to see if you’re a candidate for a flu shot. If so, try to get at the start of flu season every October or November. You can also speak with your doctor about the pneumonia vaccine and take steps to avoid contracting the common cold, which can lead to bronchitis, by avoiding sick people, washing your hands and using hand sanitizer regularly. Also, avoid touching your face.
  7. Learn breathing techniques — Some techniques, such as pursed-lip breathing, can open your lungs and allow more air in. You can talk to your doctor about this technique and others that can help control your breathing during COPD flares. Your doctor can also fill you in on pulmonary rehabilitation, which teaches you different ways to breathe and strengthens your respiratory muscles so you can enjoy more activities without feeling breathless.
  8. Get a portable oxygen tank — Lugging a heavy oxygen tank on errands can be very difficult. Switching to a lightweight, portable unit whenever you leave home can make activities such as going to dinner and traveling much easier.
  9. Use a humidifier — COPD sufferers are at a high risk of getting bronchitis, which is when your lungs produce too much mucus. A humidifier creates more moisture in the air and loosens up that mucus, making it easier for you to cough it up and out of your lungs.
  10. Join a support group — Living with COPD can cause depression and anxiety and may make you feel overwhelmed. While you may receive support from your family and doctor, chatting with a group of other COPD sufferers gives you the chance to interact and relate with someone going the same thing that you are. Joining a support group also gives you a chance to share and receive tips on how to live with COPD.

Read the complete Healthline story about living a healthy lifestyle with COPD.

Managing COPD in the Summer

April21image004Summer can be an uncomfortable season for the millions of Americans suffering with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The symptoms — coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath — coupled with the season’s increased humidity can spoil summer plans and make living normally more difficult than usual.

However, there are ways COPD sufferers can manage their symptoms while still enjoying all the fun summer has to offer.

  • Be mindful of your time outdoors — Choose your outdoor time wisely by keeping an eye on weather reports and avoid going outside when the heat and humidity are at their peak. Other helpful tips include gauging the local air pollution — AirNow is a helpful resource — and running errands or going outdoors in the morning or evening, when temperatures are a little cooler.
  • Purchase a small dehumidifier — If you live in a particularly humid climate, just opening your front door to retrieve a package can let steamy air into your home. Investing in a small dehumidifier will make breathing easier during those hot summer months.
  • Don’t ignore seasonal allergy triggers — Allergies can worsen COPD, so it is important to know your triggers and how to avoid them. Your doctor can help you manage your allergies by suggesting lifestyle adjustments and prescribing medications.
  • Stay hydrated — Drinking water is especially important in the summer, when rising temperatures can quickly lead to dehydration. Be sure to drink eight full glasses of water each day and make sure to bring a water bottle or thermos whenever you leave home.
  • Dress appropriately — Sacrifice style for comfort, especially when it comes to choosing clothes that will help keep you cool. If you’re going outside, wear light, breathable, light-colored fabrics that won’t trap in heat.
  • Cool off — This can be as easy as taking a cold shower or bath, a quick dip in the pool or dousing yourself with a garden hose. If you must go outside in the hot weather, bring along ice packs and cooling towels.
  • Keep exercising — Low-impact exercise under a physician’s guidance is helpful toward improving respiratory health and managing COPD. And the hot weather is not an excuse to skip out on workouts. You can work out indoors, or simply walk in place or lift light weights while watching television.

Read the complete Dispatch Health story to learn more about managing COPD during the summer.

Four Early Symptoms of COPD

April21image002More than 11 million Americans have been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Another 12-24 million may be living with the condition without realizing it. While there is currently no cure for COPD, a diagnosis will allow a patient to work with their doctor on how to best preserve their lung capacity and reduce the occurrence of dangerous and uncomfortable flare-ups.

A study by the Mayo Clinic found that symptoms of COPD typically don’t appear until significant lung damage has occurred. That’s why it’s important to speak with a doctor if you experience any of the following, which can be early signs of a COPD diagnosis:

  1. Ongoing cough — A chronic or constant cough is usually one of the first signs of COPD. Although coughing means the lungs are responding as they should to irritants, a chronic cough may mean the lungs aren’t functioning normally.
  2. Increased mucus — After coughing, the second early sign of COPD is an increased production of phlegm or mucus, which the lungs produce to trap or stave off irritants. For people with COPD, irritants such as tobacco smoke can lead to the production of up to three times the normal amount of mucus.
  3. Shortness of breath — When someone experiences breathlessness or shortness of breath, it means their lungs are requiring more effort than usual to move the air in and out.
  4. Fatigue — COPD causes people to get tired more easily than they have in the past and reduces their stamina or energy.

If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, your doctor will conduct a physical exam and test your lung function to determine if you have COPD. These tests will also help rule out other conditions with similar symptoms.

Read the whole Healthline story to learn more about the symptoms of COPD.

Exercise Can Help COPD Sufferers

Mar2021image006Exercise can be very beneficial for people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). While it won’t cure or reverse the disease, staying active can go a long way toward making COPD sufferers healthier and more comfortable.

Most people living with COPD experience shortness of breath, making it difficult for them to do even the simplest day-to-day tasks. It also creates a dangerous cycle: people who are short of breath have a hard time staying active, which can lead to your muscles weakening while making your heart and lungs less tolerant to exercise or physical activity.

The best way to combat this is to keep moving — no matter how slowly. Some healthy exercises for those living with COPD include:

  • Walking
  • Regularly alternating between sitting and standing
  • Riding a stationary bike
  • Using hand weights
  • Doing breathing exercises
  • Stronger muscles
  • Improved breathing and circulation
  • Relief from joint discomfort
  • Eased tension
  • Increased stamina

There are a whole host of benefits when it comes to exercising:

Try and exercise three to four days a week for 10-15 minutes per day, then gradually work up to about 30-45 minutes daily. Of course, always speak with your doctor before beginning any new fitness regimen.

Read the complete Healthline story here.

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