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Understanding the Link Between Obesity and COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and obesity are closely related in multiple ways. Due to the breathing difficulties patients with COPD experience, they find it exceptionally hard to maintain a healthy weight, and as a result, they gain extra weight, which worsens the COPD symptoms. Both are leading risk factors for heart disease, so the risk gets compounded in patients who suffer from both conditions.

However, the relationship shared between the two conditions is quite complex. Because being extremely underweight puts people at a higher risk of COPD-related mortality, in some cases, the weight acts as a protective factor.

Similarities Between COPD and Obesity

COPD and obesity are medical conditions that gradually lead to a decline in an individual’s overall health.

People experience breathing difficulties with COPD, which reduces the oxygen supply in the body, causing lethargy. The shortness of breath caused by physical activity can make people averse to exercise, which contributes to leading a sedentary lifestyle, another contributing factor to obesity.

Obesity can also affect lung function in several ways, worsening the impact of COPD. Excess weight makes it difficult to breathe, which is impaired in patients with COPD. Both conditions can increase the intensity and frequency of dyspnea or shortness of breath.Extra weight can also result in excess fatigue, making it difficult to carry out daily activities.

In addition, obesity can increase the risk of stroke, pulmonary disease, dementia, and heart attack. As both obesity and COPD can lead to heart diseases, it is highly recommended to seek virtual cardiac rehab to maintain optimal weight and heart health.

Sleep and Breathing

Obesity has been linked with sleep apnea, a medical condition where the person experiences multiple periods of breathing interruptions during sleep. COPD is often a risk factor for developing transient nocturnal desaturation, where the blood oxygen levels drop during sleep.

While transient nocturnal desaturation and sleep apnea are different conditions, they share similar consequences – low levels of energy and impaired health because of reduced blood oxygen levels. The effects of COPD and obesity can worsen the daytime symptoms, causing more serious conditions.

Diagnostic Testing for Obesity

Obesity can be diagnosed with the help of body mass index (BMI), which is used to measure the relationship between height and weight.

Here’s the BMI chart used to understand whether an individual is obese or overweight –

BMI Interpretation
<18.5 Underweight
18.5 – 24.9 Normal
25 – 29.9 Overweight
>30.0 Obese

It’s important to note that the BMI chart isn’t entirely accurate because it does not take several factors, such as build and body type, into account. However, it is a place to start. It’s best to consult your healthcare provider to understand your weight better and estimate the ideal weight for your body.

Pulmonary Testing for COPD

The severity of COPD is typically measured through imaging tests (such as Computerized Tomography (CT) or chest X-ray). Pulmonary function tests (or PFTs) help in evaluating lung function in patients with COPD.

Some of the common PFTs are –

● Forced Vital Capacity (FVC)
● Forced Expiratory Volume in One Second (FEV1)
● Total lung capacity (TLC)

Treatment for People with COPD and Obesity

If you’re obese or overweight and have COPD, you must focus on losing weight to improve your health. A safe and effective way to lose weight would include a combination of physical activity and diet.


Because it’s essential to exercise, you should consider joining a pulmonary rehabilitation for COPD that’s customized to manage your needs effectively. You will be working with a pulmonary therapist who’ll help increase your exercise tolerance.

By incorporating pulmonary rehab into your treatment and weight management program, you will witness a significant improvement in your respiratory abilities during rest, exercise, and sleep.


Because diet plays an integral role in weight loss and COPD, your nutritionists will curate a customized diet plan to help you eat a balanced diet while losing weight. For instance, if your body is low on specific nutrients, such as vitamin B12 or calcium, your dietician will include foods with high levels of those nutrients while planning your diet.

Diabetes is another factor that can complicate your health, which is why your dietician may plan meals that keep your glucose level in check. Similarly, if you’re high on triglyceride or cholesterol levels, your diet will be designed in a way to reduce these levels and facilitate weight loss.

Closing Thoughts

While COPD and obesity are different conditions, they share a distinct relationship that can further deteriorate a person’s condition. If you are obese and have been diagnosed with COPD, you must take a healthy approach to losing weight. You must also keep in mind that progression in COPD can also trigger weight loss. If you want to avoid the negative consequences of both the conditions, it’s important to work with a medical team who can curate the right health plan for you.