Swollen ankles are often seen in patients with COPD. Swollen ankles can actually help a doctor diagnose the lung disease as shortness of breath and edema in the ankles are often two of the first symptoms.
I lost my father a few years ago with a myocardial infarction secondary to lung cancer. He had been retired for ten years at his death with COPD and congestive heart failure. His heart was damaged by St. Vitus Dance when he was twelve years old. The neurological disorder left him with a heart murmur. During his illness with the COPD, his physicians told the family lung disease and heart disease usually accompany one another because if one went bad, the other soon followed. Unfortunately, six years ago I was diagnosed with COPD and have had major health problems since that time. My lungs were weakend by pneumonia in my twenties and I was also a smoker, like my father. I have emphysema and chronic bronchitis, both of which are classified as a COPD. To complicate matters, I also have asthmatic problems and allergies.
Edema, or fluid retention, in the ankles can be indicative of pulmonary hypertension. Rheumatic heart conditions, lung disease, and several other medical conditions can cause pulmonary hypertension. It is a rare lung disorder in which the arteries that carry the blood from the heart to the lungs become narrowed. This makes it difficult for the blood to flow through the vessels and results in the blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries rising far above normal. The high pressure puts a strain on the right ventricle of the heart and causes it to enlarge. Overworking the right ventricle of the heart causes it to gradually weaken and lose the ability to pump sufficient blood to the lungs. This, in turn, can lead to failure of the right side of the heart.
Pulmonary hypertension has usually progressed before any symptoms manifest. Shortness of breath during normal daily activities is usually the first symptom to appear. Fatigue, dizziness, and fainting can occur. Swelling in the feet and ankles, legs, or abdomen, bluish color to lips and skin, and chest pain can occur as the strain on the heart increases. A reddish tone may appear to the skin of the lower leg and ankle area. This area can eventually turn black as the condition worsens.
Symptoms range from patient to patient. One person may only show one or two symptoms, while others may exhibit multiple symptoms. In the advanced stages symptoms will be produced with minimal activity. Shortness of breath will increase to the point it may be difficult to breathe at rest. Fainting or dizziness may occur or increase and a racing pulse or heart palpitations may occur.
Congestive heart failure can be a source of swollen ankles. Congestive heart failure is most often caused by a rheumatic heart murmur left from rheumatic fever or by years of high blood pressure. It can also be caused by disease that increases the demand for oxygen, as is the case with lung disease. Diseases that weaken the heart muscle can also cause CHF. Congestive heart failure causes the heart not to be able to pump sufficient blood to the organs.
Symptoms of congestive heart failure are fatigue, swollen feet, ankles, and legs or abdomen, shortness of breath, and inability to sleep unless propped up or in an upright position. People with CHF often wake up in the middle of the night so short of breath they are gasping for air. Fluid can gather in the lungs and the person may have to be rushed to the hospital to have the fluid drawn off during a breathing crisis.
Many COPD patients have high blood pressure. High blood pressure can come from pulmonary hypertension or it can be hereditary. High blood pressure can cause edema of the ankles, regardless of the origin. The majority of patients with COPD were smokers prior to being diagnosed. As such, they are in a group of people not known for taking the best care of their health. Diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure are, therefore, quite common in COPD patients.
It is quite easy for a person to have COPD and be unaware of it in the early stages. COPD is rarely diagnosed in Stage 1. A lot of people tend to go through life with the attitude "that will never happen to me". This is especially true the younger a person is. A chronic cough may be passed off as "smoker's cough". Repeated episodes of bronchitis can be passed off as being exposed to "winter flu bugs". Women are at higher risk for pulmonary hyptension and, due to working more sedentary jobs, may not notice shortness of breath on exertion, especially if they are overweight. It is too easy to pass it off as being due to the weight gain. Before they seem to realize what is going on, they are struck down with a very debilitating and life threatening disease.
If you, or a loved one, has swollen ankles, seem overly fatigued frequently, are short of breath, or exhibit any of the above symptoms, contact a physician immediately. It is your future or theirs at stake.