Preventing malnutrition in later life

Managing malnutrition caused by COPD

Malnutrition is a common complication of COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, the name used to describe a group of lung conditions (like emphysema) that cause breathing difficulties. In this blog, we look at useful guides that have recently been produced for healthcare professionals and patients themselves on how to combat COPD-induced malnutrition.

Malnutrition is a big problem for those with COPD, with around 21% of people in the UK with COPD at risk of the condition.

Malnutrition in those with COPD may develop gradually over several years or more suddenly after an exacerbation or flare up.

It can be caused by a number of reasons. With breathing problems common in COPD patients, many of those with the condition may find themselves out of breath during a meal and so unable to complete it. Fatigue from COPD can make people feel like they don’t have an appetite, and so lead to food intake that isn’t sufficient.

The consequence of COPD-induced malnutrition can be very serious for patients and includes increased mortality, longer hospitals stays, reduced muscle strength and reduced respiratory function.

It can also put pressure on the system, driving up the amount of money spent on health services.

New guide: Managing Malnutrition in COPD

With this in mind, a new guide has been launched to assist healthcare professionals in identifying and managing people with COPD who are at risk of disease-related malnutrition.

The landmark guide, “Managing Malnutrition in COPD,” has been developed by a panel of professionals who all have a great interest and expertise in malnutrition and COPD. It is based on clinical experience and evidence as well as accepted best practice, and it has been endorsed by a number of key professional and patient organisations.

The guide starts with an overview of malnutrition and COPD, highlighting its causes, clinical consequences and cost implications. It then turns to look at how to identify the malnutrition risk in patients with COPD, and how to manage their nutrition according to the risk category they have been placed in.

For instance, if they are in the low risk category, there may be nothing to do beyond rescreening them again in a year’s time. But patients of medium risk may be given dietary advice, like encouraging them to eat small frequent meals and snacks high in energy and protein.

The guide also provides a pathway for using oral nutritional supplements (ONS), something which can be very important for those at high risk of COPD-caused malnutrition. It concludes with dietary advice on how to optimise nutritional intake.

Complementary guides for patients

To complement this guide, three leaflets aimed at patients have also been produced. These leaflets are colour-coded according to risk category, and include ‘Eating Well for Your Lungs,’ a green leaflet for those at low risk of malnutrition; ‘Improving Your Nutrition in COPD,’ a yellow leaflet for patients at medium risk of malnutrition; and ‘Nutrition Support in COPD,’ a red leaflet for those at high risk of malnutrition.

These leaflets for patients contain dietary advice, advice on eating and physical activity, and tips on coping with the common symptoms of COPD including dry mouth and shortness of breath.


With 630,000 people at risk of malnutrition brought on by COPD, it couldn’t be timelier to take action and deal with this condition.

Visit to download for free ‘Managing Malnutrition in COPD’ as well as the three complementary patient leaflets.

Update 20/03/2017: This HSJ article on how losing weight isn’t a normal part of COPD and the importance of nutrition pathways in tackling this assumption may be of interest   


To read other Malnutrition Task Force blogs, click here

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