A pair of lungs filled with fluid and butterflies flying around it.

Asthma and COPD in Lupus

Recent research has shown that asthma and COPD are more common in people with lupus. In a new study, researchers looked at data from 2 sources. These were the FORWARD National Databank of Rheumatic Diseases and the Lupus Outcomes Study (LOS).1

In the FORWARD group, about 20 percent of people with lupus had asthma and 8 percent had COPD. After 3 years, another 9 percent developed either condition. In the LOS group, 36 percent of people with lupus had either asthma or COPD. After 3 years, another 11 percent developed either condition.1,2

These numbers are higher for those with lupus than for everybody else. About 10 percent of US adults have asthma, and 6 percent have COPD. Other studies have shown that people with lupus are twice as likely to develop asthma or COPD.3-6

We do not yet know why people with lupus have a higher risk of asthma and COPD. For both studies, people with lupus who had asthma or COPD were more likely to:1

  • Be older
  • Have a lower income and less education
  • Be or have been a smoker
  • Be obese

The increased rate of COPD with lupus may be linked to smoking. Smoking seems to increase the risk of having lupus and causes most COPD cases. There may also be a link between asthma and lupus, but this still needs to be tested.1,7

Lupus and the respiratory system

Inflammation caused by lupus can affect breathing. Different parts of the respiratory system can be affected. This includes the lining around the lungs, the lungs themselves, and the blood vessels in the lungs.8

The most common respiratory complication of lupus is pleuritis. This is inflammation of the lining around the lungs (the pleura). Pleuritis can cause sharp pain (pleurisy) when you take a deep breath, cough, or sneeze. About half of people with lupus have pleurisy pain.8

Other common respiratory complications of lupus include:8

  • Inflammation of the lungs (pneumonitis)
  • Scarring of lung tissue caused by chronic inflammation (chronic diffuse interstitial lung disease)
  • Blood clots blocking arteries leading to lungs (pulmonary emboli)

Symptoms of these complications are very similar. Common symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, and a dry cough. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing any respiratory symptoms.8

Effects of asthma and COPD on people with lupus

Asthma and COPD are linked to worse outcomes for people with lupus. On average, people with lupus who also have asthma or COPD report:1

  • Worse physical functioning
  • Worse cognitive functioning
  • More fatigue
  • Higher levels of pain

COPD can also increase the risk of heart disease, lung cancer, and many other conditions. Asthma and COPD can interfere with sleep, work, and activities. They can also lead to emergency room visits and hospitalizations if they are severe.1,9,10

Talking to your doctor

Symptoms of asthma and COPD are similar to symptoms of other complications of lupus. This can prevent people from receiving the right treatment. Talk to your doctor about ways to prevent asthma, COPD, and other conditions. A healthy diet and avoiding smoking may reduce your risk. Avoiding certain triggers may also help.9,10

Talk to your doctor if you notice new or worsening respiratory symptoms. Some common symptoms of asthma and COPD include:9,10

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Wheezing when exhaling
  • Trouble sleeping because of shortness of breath
  • Coughing or wheezing attacks worsened by a respiratory infection

To diagnose asthma or COPD, your doctor will test your lung function. Treatment of asthma usually involves taking medicines and avoiding triggers (especially smoking). The right medicine for you depends on many factors.9,10

Severe asthma attacks can be life-threatening. Talk to your doctor ahead of time about what to do if your symptoms worsen. Ask about when to seek emergency treatment.9

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