Caring for Someone With COPD & Congestive Heart Failure: What You Need to Know

Dr. Phil Mitchell
Medically reviewed by Dr. Phil MitchellOctober 30th, 2019
Woman Helping Man

Becoming a caregiver, especially for a loved one with a progressive condition like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), can be a challenge. The symptoms associated with this gradual disease affect everyone differently, from crippling everyday functions to hindering the ability to enjoy social activities. If you’re a caretaker for someone who has recently been diagnosed with COPD, it’s important you develop the ability to recognize the progressive symptoms of the condition, as well as know what you can do to help. In this article, we’ll dive into how you can proactively care for someone with COPD and congestive heart failure (CHF), and what the significance of having both conditions can mean.

What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, better known as COPD, is a progressive lung disease that affects a person’s ability to breathe. While the main cause of COPD is smoking, other risk factors can include excessive exposure to:

  • Toxic fumes and gases introduced in the workplace
  • Second-hand air pollutants
  • Smoke from fires

Over time, this disease can rear its head in two ways: chronic bronchitis or emphysema. Most people living with COPD will experience a combination of both conditions—involving a productive cough that produces mucus and permanent damage to the lungs. Because symptoms of COPD develop slowly, most diagnoses occur later in life. According to medical professionals, this makes COPD one of the most common diseases affecting seniors today. Therefore, if you notice any of the following long-term symptoms in your elderly loved one, you should have a healthcare provider test for lung function and capacity:

  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Recurring respiratory infections

What is Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)?

Congestive heart failure, or CHF, is a condition that affects the heart’s ability to pump blood through the body. Affecting one or both sides of the heart, CHF can cause:

  • Tiredness and shortness of breath
  • Edema to the feet, ankles, and legs
  • Blood and fluid buildup in the lungs

It’s important to understand that CHF does not render your heart ineffective. However, this condition can exacerbate underlying health conditions, such as COPD, which can lead to heart failure.

The Relationship

According to recent medical studies, “COPD is a major cause of (lung) failure and dyspnea in the elderly.” But, what most fail to recognize are the additional medical conditions that can exacerbate COPD symptoms. Heart disease, for example, is the third leading cause of chronic respiratory diseases like COPD. In fact, the two conditions share many symptoms—the most common being shortness of breath.

Most cases of severe COPD are caused by CHF to the right side of the heart, causing a condition called pulmonary hypertension. This occurs when low oxygen levels caused by COPD increase blood pressure in the lung’s arteries, making the heart work double time to keep pace with the body’s ever-present need for blood. This can be dangerous under certain circumstances, potentially leading to heart failure. For these reasons and more, it’s important for caretakers of those with COPD and CHF to be on high alert for exacerbated symptoms.

Advice for the Caregiver

When it comes to monitoring your loved one’s COPD symptoms, understanding the triggers that can worsen the disease—such as CHF—can help ensure they receive the best medical treatment. While there is no cure for COPD, there are treatment plans and therapies that can help the slow the progression of the disease. This involves recognizing, tracking, and introducing preventatives to deter additional complex medical conditions, like CHF and upper respiratory infections, from exacerbating the condition. Some treatment options that you can introduce as a caregiver, include:

  • Encouraging healthy habits. Light exercise, positive thinking, and well-balanced meals can do wonders for those with progressive health conditions. It’s also imperative that caregivers do their best to sway smoking habits in those with COPD—one of the leading causes of the disease.
  • Organizing the home. By keeping the home organized, you can save your patient precious time and energy in searching for what they need.
  • Improving indoor air quality. Air quality is especially important to consider when caring for someone with COPD, as it can affect their ability to breathe. Consider investing in air purifiers and keep windows closed.

At the end of the day, the best thing a COPD caregiver can do is be prepared. As a progressive disease, COPD will eventually worsen. If you notice any of these severe symptoms, reach out to a healthcare provider:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Wheezing and chronic cough
  • Phlegm production
  • Trouble performing routine activities

How a House Call Can Help

If your loved one’s COPD has worsened, then contact your healthcare provider to discuss what the changes can mean. However, in the situation of a severe flare-up, seeking on-demand care may be the better option. Instead of trekking to the nearest emergency room (ER) for prompt medical treatment during a COPD exacerbation, contact DispatchHealth.

We provide a unique type of care, coming directly to your home to treat your symptoms. Arriving at your doorstep within hours of contact, our team of medical professionals are equipped with nearly all of the tools and treatments found at traditional ERs. We also accept most major forms of insurance—including Medicare and Medicaid—granting you the immediate treatment you need at one-tenth the out-of-pocket-cost of an ER visit.

DispatchHealth providers meeting patient at the front door of her home

At DispatchHealth, our goal is to make your role as the caregiver easier by addressing your dependent’s severe symptoms with friendly, efficient, and personalized medical care. Simply contact us via phone, app, or through our site for our services.


DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.

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