An estimated 15 million Americans live with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and it is the third leading cause of death in the United States. The most common cause of COPD is cigarette smoking; however, 23 percent of COPD patients have never smoked. New research indicates that obesity may be one contributing factor to those idiopathic cases of COPD.
A study, published in the Journal of Obesity, was led by researchers at the University of Toronto to research the relationship between COPD and obesity in nonsmokers. The study included 76,004 women and 37,618 men aged 50 and older who had never smoked. They were categorized as being normal weight, overweight or with one of three classes of obesity.
Researchers discovered a higher prevalence of COPD in participants with higher BMIs. For example, women with class I or II obesity were twice as likely to have COPD than women of normal weight. This was still the case after statistically adjusting the results for factors like age, education and income, all of which have potential to cause COPD.
Explaining the Complex Relationship
There are three possible explanations for the link between obesity and COPD:
- Obesity impairs diaphragm movement and compresses walls of the chest
- Inflammation associated with obesity causes or worsens COPD
- COPD predisposes patients to obesity because the symptoms result in decreased mobility
Although further research is needed to provide more insight into the correlation between obesity and COPD, the study was an important step in analyzing the cause of COPD in patients who have never smoked.
This study provided further evidence of obesity and COPD’s complex relationship. Previous research indicated that obesity has a protective effect on late-stage COPD. Patients who are underweight have a higher risk of dying from COPD than someone who is obese or average weight. However, both diseases can lead to further complications and worsened overall health.
Prevention and Treatment
Exercise is encouraged for COPD patients, especially those who are overweight or obese. For safety, it’s best to start with an exercise regimen guided by a medical professional.
It’s also important for healthcare professionals to routinely screen obese patients for COPD, even when they have no history of smoking.