Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and congestive heart failure (CHF) both are debilitating and leave you with shortness of breath. These two serious conditions share symptoms and common risk factors, but you should be aware that the causes, treatments and prognosis of each differ significantly.

COPD Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

COPD is a term for serious respiratory conditions of several types that block airflow to the lungs. The two main conditions of COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Regarding effects of bronchitis, the airways connecting your trachea to your lungs become inflamed. Emphysema is a dysfunction that occurs when serious damage occurs to the tiny air sacs in your lungs where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged. These both leave lungs unable to work fully, making it very difficult for the patient to breathe.

CHF Congestive Heart Failure

CHF or congestive heart failure occurs when your heart becomes too weak to pump blood through your body. If your blood isn’t pumped out of the heart effectively, then unfortunate fluid levels build up or can become congested. When blood backs up or develops blood pools in the heart, the heart beats harder and faster and expands to handle the greater blood volume in it. This makes heart failure much worse.

Similar symptoms

Wheezing and shortness of breath are shared symptoms of both COPD and CHF. Breathing difficulties are developed following any physical activity and have a tendency to develop gradually. Initially you may be out of breath after simple activities such as climbing a set of stairs. As COPD and CHF each worsen, wheezing and shortness of breath occur with very little physical effort.

Chronic coughing is a main symptom of COPD. The cough sometimes brings up mucus but can also in the alternative be a dry cough. People with CHF also tend to have a dry, but one that produces sputum. Sputum is the coughed up mucus that may contain bacteria, blood, or pus.

COPD could produce chest tightness. CHF doesn’t lead to chest tightness, but you may feel the sensation of your heart beating irregularly or very rapidly.


COPD and CHF develop from different causes. The most common cause of COPD is smoking. While a medical history of smoking doesn’t mean absolutely you’ll get COPD, it certainly increases the likelihood of developing dysfunctional respiratory problems. Smoking is also a risk factor for CHF and heart disease, not to mention the high risk for lung cancer.

COPD may be attributed to secondhand smoke or inhaling chemicals in your workplace, but a congenital family history of COPD can also increase your likelihood of developing it.

Heart failure can be caused by coronary artery disease (CAD). This heart disease occurs when one or more blood vessels in the heart become blocked. This usually causes heart attacks. Other causes of heart failure include diseases of the heart valves, high blood pressure, and diseases of the heart muscle itself.

Treatment and Lifestyle Changes

There is no cure for either COPD or CHF. Treatment with medication is necessary to slow progression of the disease and manage symptoms. Smoking contributes to COPD and CHF; therefore quitting smoking will improve your health, whatever your condition happens to be at the time.

Physical activity strengthens the heart and lungs, but COPD and CHF will definitely limit the types of exercises you can perform. Discuss safe activities with your physician, and understand precautions you should take.

Summary of Disease Differences

Both COPD and CHF can only be treated for symptoms. Therefore, prevention is the key to both diseases and your capability of a long healthful life.