1. What exactly is obesity?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health. A body mass index (BMI) over 25 is considered overweight, and over 30 is obese. The issue has grown to epidemic proportions, with over 4 million people dying each year as a result of being overweight or obese in 2017 according to the global burden of disease.
Overweight and obesity are major risk factors for a number of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke, which are the leading causes of death worldwide. Being overweight can also lead to diabetes and its associated conditions, including blindness, limb amputations, and the need for dialysis. Rates of diabetes have quadrupled since around the world since 1980. Carrying excess weight can lead to musculoskeletal disorders including osteoarthritis. Obesity is also associated with some cancers, including endometrial, breast, ovarian, prostate, liver, gallbladder, kidney and colon. The risk of these noncommunicable diseases increases even when a person is only slightly overweight and grows more serious as the body mass index (BMI) climbs into higher digits.
2. So how does it affect my lungs?
Overweight and obese individuals are more likely to have respiratory symptoms than individuals with a normal BMI, even in the absence of demonstrable lung disease. Studies have shown an increase in self-reported dyspnea and wheezing at rest and on exertion in obese compared with lean individuals. So how does this all translate?
With the rise of weight and BMI the lung volumes decreases. This leads to more restricted air entry. Fat distribution around the abdomen leads to worsening lung function and respiratory symptoms. Lower body fat deposition is less associated with respiratory symptoms in comparison.
It is hypothesized that deposition of fat tissue in the abdominal wall and around the abdominal organs hampers movement of the diaphragm and reduce the lung expansion during inspiration and reduced lung capacity.
The function of the respiratory muscles also deteriorates in obese patients much like in respiratory diseases like chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD).
3. I am experiencing some of these symptoms…
Obesity affects the respiratory system health adversely in more ways than one. Some of the health effects of obesity on respiratory system include diseases like:-
- Exertional dyspnea – This is basically severe breathlessness caused due to minor exertions. This is a common feature among obese individuals.
- Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome – This condition leads to closing or narrowing of the airways during sleep leading to snoring, repeated waking and lack of adequate and restful sleep.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is characterized by the progressive and largely irreversible airflow obstruction and occurs predominately in smokers
- Asthma – Obese patients are more at risk of asthma exacerbations. Studies show the prevalence of asthma is higher by 38% in overweight patients and by 92% in obese patients. Obese patients with asthma also get more acute attacks, need more asthma medication, need more frequent visits to the emergency department (ED), and have more hospital admissions than non obese patients with asthma.
- Obesity hypoventilation syndrome – Obese individuals have low lung reserve and may thus have difficulty in providing enough oxygen for their body. This may lead to hypoxia or low oxygenation of the body.
- Pulmonary embolism – This is a serious condition where a blood clot gets lodged in the blood vessels of the lungs leading to a life threatening medical emergency. Pulmonary embolism may lead to failure and death.
- Aspiration pneumonia – Due to the short and narrowed airways there is a possibility of the stomach contents moving into the lungs. This causes severe pneumonia caused by the harmful stomach acids.
4. How can I make changes to my situation?
The obvious first step is to lose weight but as with all drastic changes in lifestyle we recommend a consultation with your doctor before embarking on a new diet or exercise regime. Other steps you can take to support your lungs include:
- Diaphragmatic breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing uses the awareness of the diaphragm muscle, which separates the organs in the abdomen from the lungs.
- Simple deep breathing
Deep breathing can help you get to your lung’s full capacity – slow deep inhale and expelling of air is recommended. Meditation assists with this method.
- Counting your breaths
Start by counting how long a natural breath takes. If it takes to the count of five to inhale, it should take to the count of five to exhale. Try to keep them to an equal length.
- Watching your posture
Giving your lungs even more room is leaning back slightly in a stable chair, lifting the chest, and opening the front of your body as you breathe deeply.
- Staying hydrated
Staying well hydrated by taking in fluids throughout the day helps keep the mucosal linings in the lungs thin – which supports healthy functionality.
- Staying active
Regular, moderately intense activity is great for the lungs, and when you increase your daily activity you get three things done at once: healthy lungs, a healthier heart and a better mood
- Quit smoking or vaping
The added strain that nicotine and other chemicals add to the lungs have a major impact on healthy lung performance.
Our team of cardiologists and internal medicine consultants understands the risks to lung functionality and are there to answer all your questions on this topic. As part of our treatment plans we investigate all factors from family history to current symptoms.
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Disclaimer: This content including advice provides generic information only. It is in no way a substitute for a qualified medical opinion. Always consult a specialist or your own doctor for more information on the topic.