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Elderly man midshot

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

COPD is the name used to describe a number of lung related conditions that affect the airways and make it difficult to breathe. Conditions like emphysema and chronic bronchitis cause inflammation and damage to the airways, and cause them to get narrower. This is what makes it harder to breathe.

Inflammation of the airways and the extra effort required to breathe and carry out day to day activities increases the amount of energy (calories) and protein needed for a person with COPD to maintain their weight and strength. If these increased requirements are not met, weight loss may occur. When breathing is difficult, it can also impact on our ability to eat. Coordinating chewing, swallowing and breathing with COPD can be challenging and may lead to anxiety around eating and reduced intake of food and fluid. This may also result in unintentional weight loss.

People with COPD can have increased energy (calories) and protein requirements2,3,4

Nutritional support in COPD 

Good nutrition can help to keep people with COPD fitter and stronger5. Weight loss and, specifically, loss of muscle may worsen the symptoms associated with COPD such as shortness of breath and reduced physical fitness. Good nutrition can help to prevent this. Good nutrition also keeps the immune system strong6, which reduces the risk of chest infections. In those with COPD, being a healthy weight, or even slightly above a healthy weight can reduce the number of complications experienced.

Getting adequate nutrition from diet alone can be hard when experiencing shortness of breath, anxiety around eating and reduced strength. Healthcare professionals may prescribe oral nutritional supplements for those who cannot get adequate nutrition from diet alone. 

 At least 440,000 people in Ireland have COPD1

  1. British Lung Foundation. http://statistics.blf.org.uk/COPD [Accessed 09.06.2017]
  2. Deutz N, Bauer JM, Barazzoni R, et al. Protein intake and exercise for optimal muscle function with aging: Recommendations from the ESPEN Expert Group. Clin Nutr. 2014;33:929-36.
  3. Kim HC, Mofarrahi M, Hussain S. Skeletal muscle dysfunction in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Int J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis. 2008;3:637–58.
  4. Ezzell L, Jensen GL. Malnutrition in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;72:1415-6.
  5. Ferreira IM, Brooks D, White J, et al. Nutritional supplementation for stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012(12).
  6. Chandra RK. Nutrition and the immune system: an introduction. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 1997;66(2):460S-3S.


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