Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) affects around 16 million people in the United States and about 65 million people worldwide. But despite how common COPD is, many people are woefully unaware of its causes, risk factors, and symptoms. Some of the more under-discussed symptoms associated with COPD are ones related to coordination and balance. In this article, you’ll learn five different ways to improve your stability as a COPD patient and prevent falls.

Maintain Your Blood Oxygen Levels

Supplemental oxygen therapy is a foundational aspect of most COPD treatment plans. Most COPD patients have to use medical-grade oxygen in order to maintain their blood oxygen levels throughout the day. Unfortunately, falling behind on your oxygen therapy plan could result in breathlessness, chest pain, and dizziness, all of which can contribute to balance and coordination issues.

Conversely, receiving too much oxygen can also be problematic. Oxygen toxicity (hyperoxia) is a condition that results when you are exposed to oxygen at higher partial pressures than what the body is normally exposed to. Oxygen toxicity symptoms include chest pain, dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, and more. Never use medical oxygen without a prescription, and only use the amount prescribed by your doctor.

Check Regularly for Peripheral Edema

Peripheral edema simply means swelling in one or more of the extremities. It usually results from fluid buildup that’s caused by poor circulation and is a common comorbid condition in COPD patients. Edema in your legs or feet can cause balance issues, so you should make it a habit to check regularly for swelling and redness. Another sign of edema is pitting. This is when you press down on the skin and an indent is left. Peripheral edema can be a sign of a more serious underlying issue like right-sided heart failure, so it’s best to speak with your doctor immediately. 

Avoid Malnutrition

Maintaining a healthy diet is imperative for sustaining energy levels and building muscle strength. But many COPD patients find themselves with a lack of appetite. In order to prevent falls, you’ll need to follow the diet plan that your doctor made for you. This likely includes foods that are high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats. If you’re having trouble eating without feeling exhausted, try eating smaller meals throughout the day rather than two or three large meals. 

Adapt Your Living Environment

Sometimes, balance and coordination issues have environmental causes. Whether you live alone or with a friend or family member, it’s important to keep your living area organized in order to limit your chances of experiencing a fall. You might consider installing ramps or handrails in your home or hiring a caretaker to make sure your living area is safe and free of clutter. 

Consider Using a Mobility Aid

Last but certainly not least, mobility aids are always an option. Mobility aids like canes, walkers, manual wheelchairs, and electric wheelchairs are widely used by people with COPD. If you’re on medical oxygen, you can rest your oxygen tank or oxygen concentrator on a walker or wheelchair to prevent adding any strain to your shoulders or back. 

Conclusion

Balance and coordination problems are more common among COPD patients than you may believe. Studies suggest that COPD is one of the chronic conditions with the highest fall rates, second only to osteoarthritis. Take the precautions listed in this article to limit your risk of falls and consult your doctor if you have any questions or concerns. 

Sources:

  • ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3350813/#:~:text=Results%20from%20a%20recent%20study,falls%2C%20second%20only%20to%20osteoarthritis.&text=Fall%20incidence%20in%20people%20with,range%20between%2025%E2%80%9346%25.
  • lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/copd/living-with-copd/nutrition
  • verywellhealth.com/why-does-copd-cause-my-legs-and-ankles-to-swell-914879

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