COPD as a systemic disease: impact on physical functional limitations

Am J Med. 2008 Sep;121(9):789-96. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2008.04.030.


Purpose: Although chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has a major impact on physical health, the specific impact of COPD on physical functional limitations has not been characterized clearly. We aimed to elucidate the physical functional limitations that are directly attributable to COPD compared to a matched referent group without the condition.

Methods: We used the Function, Living, Outcomes, and Work (FLOW) cohort study of adults with COPD (n=1202) and referent subjects matched by age, sex, and race (n=302) to study the impact of COPD on the risk of a broad array of functional limitations using validated measures: lower extremity function (Short Physical Performance Battery [SPPB]), submaximal exercise performance (Six Minute Walk Test [SMWT]), standing balance (Functional Reach Test), skeletal muscle strength (manual muscle testing with dynamometry), and self-reported functional limitation (standardized item battery). Multivariate analysis was used to control for confounding by age, sex, race, height, educational attainment, and cigarette smoking.

Results: COPD was associated with poorer lower extremity function (mean SPPB score decrement for COPD vs referent -1.0 points; 95% CI, -1.25 to -0.73 pts) and less distance walked during the SMWT (-334 feet; 95% CI, -384 to -282 ft). COPD also was associated with weaker muscle strength in every muscle group tested, including both the upper and lower extremities (P<.0001 in all cases) and with a greater risk of self-reported functional limitation (OR 6.4; 95% CI, 3.7 to 10.9).

Conclusions: A broad array of physical functional limitations were specifically attributable to COPD. COPD affects a multitude of body systems remote from the lung.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Disability Evaluation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Muscle Strength
  • Postural Balance
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology*
  • Respiratory Function Tests