COPD and congestive heart failure

Contributed by Jim Nelson, consultant to CAIRE Inc.COPD includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, which can damage the lungs. As the disease progresses, the bronchial tubes become increasingly restricted through swelling, inflammation, or an excess of thick mucus. Also, the alveoli, the microscopic air sacs where oxygen is absorbed into the blood stream and carbon dioxide, waste gas, is expelled into the lungs to be exhaled, grow less elastic and damaged.

COPD can also cause the small arteries of the lungs to narrow. When this happens, blood flow is restricted, increasing the workload on the right side of the heart. The excess pressure is called pulmonary hypertension, literally excess pressure in the lungs.

It is that side of the heart that works to push blood into the lungs. Over time, the extra blood pressure and heightened strain on the heart may cause the right side of the heart to increase in size. Eventually, this can lead to right-sided heart failure, a condition called cor pulmonale.

When the right ventricle of the heart loses its ability to efficiently pump, blood can accumulate in other parts of the body, producing congestion. When congestive heart failure occurs, it affects the liver, the digestive tract, and causes swelling of the limbs. It also renders the patient more susceptible to a heart attack, followed by disability or death. However, like so many things, cor pulmonale and congestive heart failure are largely preventable.

While COPD is progressive and incurable, that progress can be slowed dramatically! We preach the values of exercise and proper oxygenation of the blood for a good reason … when the saturation of oxygen in the blood stream is kept above 90%, (usually the higher the better), the brain cells and the right side of the heart are kept from damage. That is the reason that physicians perform the “walk test.”

If they suspect that the patient is running low on saturation, they will attach a pulse oximeter to a finger and go for a walk around the hallways of the medical facility. During the walk, if the saturation as measured by the pulse/ox drops much below 90%, it calls for intervention. That intervention usually takes the form of supplemental oxygen.

I think it is safe to say that no one really wants to wear an oxygen cannula. However, the alternative is much more unpleasant. Risking damage to the organs of the body, especially the heart and brain, can result in situations much more unpleasant than wearing a cannula. Using a supplemental oxygen source, be it a home concentrator, bottles, or a small portable concentrator, can help to keep the patient healthier and able to sustain a decent quality of life.

In addition, devotion to an exercise regimen can help tremendously in the effort to stay active, to slow the progression of COPD, and to protect the heart and brain. The thought of exercising when any sort of activity brings shortness of breath may seem impossible, but that is the exact opposite of the truth.

I was diagnosed with severe COPD at age 55. My lung function was 33% of normal, given my age, height, etc. I went home with a full compliment of oxygen bottles, regulators, hoses and cannulas. Research showed us that exercise was vital to slowing the disease, so I ordered our first treadmill. I have honestly worn out three treadmills since then.

However, it paid off! I was able to keep that 33% lung function for nearly 13 years! I wore my cannula for sleeping and for exercising, and it quickly became a part of my life.  My heart is still of normal size, and I feel that my brain is still functioning extremely well!  (There are those who disagree, but I ignore them …)

~ Uncle Jim

Jim Nelson is a double lung transplant recipient and a patient advocate for COPD patients throughout the U.S. and around the world. He and his wife, Mary, are well known patient advocates and brand ambassadors for those organizations who tirelessly endeavor to help those individuals who suffer from a variety of respiratory diseases and the caregivers who support them.

If you have been prescribed oxygen therapy, learn more about CAIRE wearableportable and stationary oxygen concentrators by visiting or calling 1-877-704-0878 to talk to an oxygen advisor. 

When using any oxygen therapy device please consult the applicable product instructions for use for product indications, contraindications, warnings, precautions, and detailed safety information.


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