COPD and Osteoarthritis

Connection could change the way Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is treated

COPD patient and therapist

A new study by researchers at West Park Healthcare Centre, which confirms that there is an increased risk of osteoarthritis among people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), could change the way treatment is managed in that population.

The study, published in the International Journal of COPD, analyzes data covering 101,399 individuals by examining 14 previously written articles. It is the first article that systematically examines the prevalence of osteoarthritis in individuals with COPD. 

“We estimate that 35.5 per cent of individuals with COPD have osteoarthritis,” says Adnan Wshah, a research PhD student at West Park and one of the authors of the article. “This means that people with COPD are more likely to have osteoarthritis when compared to their healthy counterparts.”

Wshah, who co-wrote the article with Drs. Dina Brooks and Roger Goldstein of West Park and University of Toronto’s Sara JT Guilcher, says that the findings can affect how COPD is treated in the future.

While healthcare providers are already encouraged to screen for osteoarthritis when treating COPD, a better understanding of the link between the two diseases may help practitioners develop rehabilitation approaches that better suit the needs of people with osteoarthritis.

For instance, some patients with osteoarthritis may experience pain in their knees when using a treadmill, making hydrotherapy a potentially more viable exercise option.

“An awareness of the existence of osteoarthritis in COPD patients will inform the way healthcare providers manage symptoms, mobility, participation, and health-related quality of life,” Wshah says.

COPD, an umbrella term for progressive lung diseases like emphysema and chronic bronchitis, is distinguished by increasing breathlessness and afflicts approximately 2.6 million Canadians.

Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, results from gradual damage to the cartilage that protects bone joints and can cause chronic pain and a reduced tolerance for exercise, making physical rehab much more difficult.

The co-occurrence of these two conditions is important, as both COPD and OA diminish physical activity and increase the time spent in sedentary behaviour, potentially leading to a poorer quality of life.

“Health care providers may need to modify the exercise program for COPD patients in the presence of osteoarthritis,” Wshah says.

The article also suggests developing new pharmacological approaches to slow tissue destruction and promote repair, as both COPD and osteoarthritis are associated with chronic systemic inflammation.