How I overcame cachexia, the wasting disease often tied to COPD

Being underweight was a concern, but my coffee-drinking offered a solution

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by Caroline Gainer |

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It’s not uncommon for those of us with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to suffer from cachexia, or wasting disease. A 2019 study found that people with cachexia or pre-cachexia had a higher death rate than those who didn’t suffer this uncontrolled weight loss.

The reason I’m telling you about cachexia is personal. My normal weight for 30 years was 113 pounds. The nurse in my doctor’s office once said that if the scales didn’t show 113 when I got on them, she’d send them out for repair.

When I was diagnosed with COPD, I weighed a little over 90 pounds. I was told that I needed to gain weight to survive a catastrophic event, such as the one I was experiencing: a pneumothorax, or collapsed lung. Tall, thin men are more likely than women to have a spontaneous pneumothorax. I wasn’t tall, and I wasn’t a man, but I was skinny.

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I tried to gain weight by eating more than I wanted, but to no avail. Drinking an Ensure supplement with my lunch didn’t work, either; it made me so full that I ate less lunch. My general practitioner had suggested that I drink two bottles of Ensure each day, but the one in the evening made me nauseous.

Success at last

Finally, my doctor and I produced a plan to help me put on some weight. She knew that I love coffee with cream, so we started there. I added one heaping teaspoon of Ensure powder, one heaping teaspoon of cocoa powder, and one heaping teaspoon of whey to each cup of coffee I drank. The Ensure powder was added so I’d get the benefit of its 20+ vitamins, minerals, and protein. The cocoa powder addition was to help reduce inflammation. The whey was added to help build muscle mass.

My doctor also suggested that I add peanut butter and butter to every slice of bread that I ate.

Under this plan, I began to put on weight and gain strength. The Ensure and peanut butter prompted some warnings about diabetes, but my doctor wasn’t concerned because I was neither diabetic nor prediabetic.

When I reached 120 pounds, my pulmonologist’s nurse made the announcement, prompting a big cheer from the staff. I don’t like how I look at 120 pounds, but I do like that I haven’t had a pneumothorax since I achieved this weight.

It’s important to maintain a healthy weight — and it’s OK to ask for help when we need it.


Note: COPD News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of COPD News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.