Patients coming to the office for the first time are often surprised about the interest their lung doctor takes in talking about their heart, and often times suggests that some heart tests are needed, along with the usual pulmonary functions and x-rays. Heart disease is a common associated illness in patients with COPD.
Approximately 20% of the patients with COPD have significant cardiovascular disease, which puts them at risk for heart attacks and strokes. It is important to diagnose the presence of heart disease accurately in COPD patients because many of the symptoms, such as shortness of breath or wheezing, can be due to heart disease, and not lung problems.COPD is found in up to 16% of patients having an acute heart attack, and it is present in more than 50% of patients with heart failure. Likewise, cardiovascular disease is found in about 55% of patients entering the hospital with flair ups of their lung disease, which we call exacerbations or “lung attacks”.
The heart can take quite a pounding when patients with COPD have an exacerbation. One of the biomarkers we often use is a blood test for something called troponin which is an indication of heart muscle stress and sometimes an out and out heart attack. Troponin levels are often elevated at rest in patients with COPD and increase several fold during exacerbations indicating significant heart muscle stress. If we find COPD and you have not had a heart evaluation you need these test as well.