COPD and Your Heart: Blood Tests and Medications

  • In the first article in this series we talked about how your heart works in close partnership with your lungs. In Part II we learned about some common cardiac (heart) tests that involve procedures. Today, in third and final part of our series on the heart, we’ll discuss blood tests used to diagnose problems with the heart, and also a bit about how some cardiac medicines can affect your breathing.

    Invasive and Non-invasive
    To review - two main methods of medical testing are: Invasive and non-invasive. Invasive tests and procedures are when something is put into your body - a needle or a tube to gather or give blood, fluid, or tissue. In a non-invasive test, nothing is placed into your body. Blood tests are invasive because a needle goes into your body to obtain blood.

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    Here are a few (not all) commonly done blood tests to check on functions related to your heart. These tests require taking a small amount of blood, most likely one or two small tubes.

    Although cholesterol is essential for us to live, high levels in circulating in the blood are strongly associated with the progression of atherosclerosis (sometimes referred to as “hardening of the arteries”), the thickening of blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood.

    What is the doc looking for?

    If you are more likely to have clogging in the arteries that supply your heart with oxygen.

    What’s Good –What’s Not?
    Here are some basic guidelines from the Mayo Clinic on “Total” Cholesterol
    U.S. and some other countries  Canada and most of Europe
    Below 200                                    Below 5.2                           Desirable
    200-239                                       5.2-6.2                               Borderline high
    240 and above                              Above 6.2                           High

    Troponin is an enzyme that increases with recent heart damage. This test is usually done in the hospital when you’re actually having chest pain.

    What is the doc looking for?
    An increased level that may indicate that you’ve had a heart attack. This is a time-sensitive blood test, so it should be done within 24 hours of when your doctor suspects you may have had a heart attack.

    Creatine phosphokinase (CPK) is another enzyme found in the heart.
    What is the doc looking for?
    Elevated levels of CPK can indicate that your heart is under strain or has had a heart attack. Should be done within 72 hours of symptoms.

    Electrolytes in your blood help with the electrical conduction in your heart. Electrolytes must be in balance in order for your heart to beat. There are several chemicals measured when testing electrolytes – a few are sodium, potassium, calcium, and chloride.
    What is the doc looking for?
    Abnormal results indicating an imbalance in your electrolytes that may cause problems in the electrical activity of your heart.

  • Heart Medicines and your breathing

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    If you have lung disease and are on medications for your heart, here are some things you should know.

    Some heart meds themselves can cause a cough – dry, hacky, persistent cough. If you are on a heart medicine in the category called “Ace Inhibitors” and have a pesky dry cough, check with your doctor if the medicine (not your lung disease) you’re on may be the problem. If so, another heart medicine will probably work fine and not cause the cough.

    Note: Never stop taking your heart medicines without the permission of your doctor! The side effects might be a bother, but stopping the medicine could be a lot worse!

    If you have asthma symptoms, some medicines in the category called “Beta Blockers” may increase those symptoms. Always make sure your doctor and pharmacist have a complete list of your medications so every med you’re taking is helping you feel better and be healthier, not making you worse!

    Medicines in the “Statin” category are designed to lower your cholesterol, but may also cause muscle fatigue, aches or pain.

    Now you know a bit more about common heart tests. Be informed and work with your doctor to keep your lungs breathing – and your heart beating – for a long time to come!

    Related Articles: Is That Good? Understanding Vital Signs


    Many thanks to cardiac nurse, Lynda Schipper, BSN, CVN for her help with the research of this article.

    Jane M. Martin is a licensed respiratory therapist, teacher and the founder and director of    She is the author of Live Your Life With COPD: 52 Weeks of Health, Happiness and Hope and Breathe Better, Live in Wellness: Winning Your Battle Over Shortness of Breath.

Published On: August 30, 2011