Complications

These include

  • Repeated lung infections
  • Pneumothorax
  • Heart failure
  • Respiratory failure
  • Polycythemia
  • Bronchogenic carcinoma

Why They happen

  • Lung Infections: The tiny hair (cilia) on the bronchial lining are responsible for trapping and eliminating pollutants. These cilia are destroyed by repeated irritation of the bronchial lining leading to retention of the irritants, Increased mucous production and predisposes to infections of the lungs (Pneumonia).
  • Pneumothorax: The alveolar destruction and thinning of the alveolar walls leads to bullae formation. Which are likely to rupture causing leakage of air from the lungs (known as Pneumothorax).
  • Heart failure (Cor Pulmonale): Damage to the pulmonary blood vessels and decreased amount of oxygen in the blood contribute to increase in the workload on heart. The right side of the heart which pumps blood to the lungs (right ventricle) is affected more so increasing its size. This in turn may disrupt the rhythm of the heart and its ability to supply the organs (e.g. liver, kidneys) especially in times of increased needs like colds, infections, etc.
  • Respiratory failure: As the disease progresses the lungs are unable to fulfill the primary function of maintaining an adequate gas exchange, eventually leading to a state called Respiratory Failure.
  • Polycythemia: The body tries to compensate for the decreased blood oxygen levels by producing more red blood cells, which are the oxygen carrying cells. This increase in population of red blood cells( Polycythemia)  thickens the blood  disrupting its flow.
  • Bronchogenic carcinoma: It is not strictly a complication of COPD but  smoking is the common factor in both.