Shortness of breath with activity and weakness are two of the more common complaints that I hear from patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
(COPD). Often times these complaints are not associated with any measurable changes in the patient’s pulmonary functions. This set of circumstances can often lead to a cardiac evaluation to be sure that heart function is normal and there is no element of coronary artery disease that is limiting function. Most of the time, we find no limiting cardiac problems in these patients and are left with trying to explain the original complaint.

There are many reasons for patients with COPD to experience additional shortness of breath and here is one to consider: The lungs are responsible for providing oxygen to and removing carbon dioxide from the body. It is not surprising that lung dysfunction can affect other organs and the metabolism of their cells. Loss of muscle strength and endurance is a prominent feature of COPD. Loss of muscle strength in the quadriceps muscle (the large muscle group on the front part of your thigh which helps you go up steps and stand up from a chair) is present in at least one-third of patients with COPD, even at early stages of the disease. Hospitalizations and the normal loss of muscle cells as we age contribute to the symptoms.

There are currently no medications for this aspect of COPD. However, physical therapy and exercise along with nutritional support are often able to improve, or at least stabilize, this common COPD complication.