It was already a known fact that Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease can cause bleeding in the large blood vessels of the brain, but now researchers have discovered that the small blood vessels are also affected. A recent study showed that those with COPD are more likely to develop cerebral microbleeds in the deep tissues of the brain, which is often one of the main causes of Alzheimers and other types of dementia.
The study used high resolution MRIs to detect the deterioration of the small blood vessels in the brain, or the start of any microbleeds deep within the brain. There have been a few previous studies before this one, but this study was needed as a follow up to help researchers make a determination. A group of people with normal lung function were also screened to make a comparison. They also took into account factors such as age, sex, whether or not they were a smoker, if they already have large blood vessel disease, and things such as cholesterol levels. The results of this study were originally published in the online version of the American Thoracic Society's Journal, as well as the print version.
This explains why many people with COPD often see a more rapid decline in brain health. COPD and lack of oxygen to the brain was already known to be a contributing factor to the onset of dementia in older patients. With this new information, physicians can start planning screenings for their patients to help prevent these microbleeds.
Cerebral microbleeds can be hard to diagnose without the proper screening, and the symptoms are very subtle and much like any other symptoms caused by COPD itself. You should talk to your doctor about getting an MRI to check for any cerebral microbleeds if your have COPD, whether or not you already have symptoms. You may not have them yet, but if any dangers of them are detected, you and your doctor can start to take preventative measures.
Some of the symptoms for small hemorrhages in the brain are a minor or slowly increasing loss of vision, decrease in small motor functions, a loss of balance, slow decrease in alertness, tingling sensation in the limbs with no other explanations, and nausea or vomiting with no other explanations. If you are having any combination of these symptoms, you should call your doctor right away to be seen. Even if microbleeds aren't the cause, you should still be checked out for other causes of these symptoms. If you have a history of large vessel disease, seizures or stroke, your doctor will likely want to schedule regular screenings.
To help preserve your brain health, you can also do a few things on your own to prevent cerebral microbleeds. Some experts believe that improvements in diet and exercise will help prevent cerebral microbleeds, as well as dementia in general. Head injuries will also significantly increase your risk of any type of internal brain hemorrhaging. Talk to your doctor about some safe, low-impact exercises that you can do to improve circulation throughout your whole body.
Information on this page is for reference and educational purposes only. For more information about COPD, talk to your doctor or primary care provider.