COPD Linked to High Risk of Falling

People with moderate to severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may be at high risk of falling—especially during a flare, a recent study finds.

The investigators used a variety of tests during their study to assess balance in 46 people with moderate to severe COPD and in 17 similar healthy people. Of those with COPD, 29 were stable and 17 were experiencing an acute exacerbation.

The researchers also assessed several risk factors associated with impaired balance and falls, including low blood oxygen levels and anxiety/depression.

Of the nine parameters assessed, people with COPD had significantly lower scores than their healthy counterparts on six—a finding that suggests they may be at an increased risk of falling. Scores of those who were having an acute exacerbation were lower still.

In addition, 35 percent of those who were having a COPD flare had fallen twice within the past year, but none with stable COPD had two falls.

People with moderate to severe COPD often have a decreased capacity to exercise, less mobility, and muscle weakness—all conditions that affect balance.

Bottom line

If you have moderate to severe COPD, discuss with your doctor whether it's appropriate to get a referral to a pulmonary rehab program (be sure it specifically includes a balance training component) or to a physical therapist who can design a personalized balance exercise program.

PLOS ONE Published online March 13, 2015