Many challenges can arise with having both COPD and diabetes; the risk of having diabetes with COPD appears to exist regardless of the severity of the disease.
Susie Wolf was diagnosed with diabetes in 2004, and COPD in 2006.
“The greatest challenge for me is when I have serious exacerbations with COPD. My physician has to put me on a steroid taper because steroids for exacerbations raise the blood sugar and that can be very serious,” Wolf says. “When I’m on a steroid taper for the lungs, I have to test myself every couple hours so it becomes extremely challenging to go anywhere.”
In addition to that, Wolf says a challenging is coordinating her diabetes medication and her COPD medication.
“That can be really tricky—these drugs can upset your stomach and I’m hyper-sensitive to these medications. When you’re dealing with multiple health issues as I do, you’re talking about a variety of different drugs all trying to do different things,” Wolf says.
Diabetes can affect lung function in several different ways. For example, it has been associated with a reduction in lung volumes (this reduction is also known as lung restriction), as well as a reduction in forced expiratory volume in the first second (FEV1) – a direct indicator of the severity of airflow obstruction in COPD. The causes for this “restrictive” phenomenon are not well understood, but thought to be a consequence of the effects of high glucose levels on important breathing structures such as the diaphragm, and other breathing muscles as well as breathing nerves.
Overall, Wolf says one has to be aware of managing both diseases.
“I really need to stay on top of it and be focused every day on everything. So that brings on another onslaught of issues—every waking moment it’s all about you, asking yourself, ‘Did I do this?’ ‘Did I do that?’ It’s constant maintenance,” she says.
Because of this, Wolf says it helps to write down her daily tasks, especially if she’s on a steroid taper.
“You have to keep track of you’re doing, pen to paper. Jot everything down. That’s my number one biggest piece of advice. Sometimes it’s so overwhelming trying to follow what you’re doing throughout the day to take care of yourself, I’d lose track if I don’t write things down,” she says.
Wolf says that those with COPD and diabetes, or any comorbid condition, should always be prepared and have a plan to deal with the two serious diseases at the same time.
“With COPD and diabetes what helps is a good support system. All it takes is having one person in your corner—whether it be a spouse, friend, or child—if you have one person you can discuss things with it makes things better,” she says. “I’m a huge believer in affirmations, so a positive attitude is very important. It does help to be positive, and keep yourself busy.”
“Make sure you get outside yourself. Volunteer to help others or do projects—but you have to get outside your medical self and live life,” she says. “Always think—‘there’s gotta be more, gotta be more, gotta be more.’”