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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) makes it difficult to empty air out of the lungs. About 64 million people worldwide carry a diagnosis of COPD. In the United States, about 15 million adults have COPD.


There is a growing body of research evidence (Burgess, Kunik, Stanley, 2005) that COPD is a physical condition with significant psychosocial consequences. The stigma arises because individuals’ behavior, such as smoking, is associated with those who have COPD, holding them responsible for their disease. To add to this, persons with COPD are often supplied with oxygen equipment. They experience some bodily changes and sometimes face a disruption in their social interactions.


Having COPD can create for both patient and family an extremely distressing lifestyle. For the patient, CPOD can result in anxiety, panic and, in some cases, functional depression because of breathing difficulties. Anxiety is sometimes displayed in restlessness, muscle tension, loss of concentration and irritability. Physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pains, tingling sensations, trembling, feelings of faintness and choking can perpetuate the patient’s anxiety and lead to panic disorder. Professional care may be necessary if the symptoms persist. Failure to discuss these complications with your primary care physician or health care provider can lead to more serious mental health issues. The symptoms of depression associated with COPD include loss

UNDERSTANDING THE PSYCHOLOGICAL ISSUES OF COPD

of interest or pleasure in every-day activities, sleep disturbances, weight changes, fatigue, poor concentration and, in some rare cases, thoughts of death.


There are effective treatment options that can help you manage COPD. Treatment choices include both drug and non-drug protocols that are suitable for emotional problems. The non-drug treatment options include short-term psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral interventions. It is often beneficial for both patient and caregiver to participate in this level of care. A credentialed psychotherapist can help the patient and caregiver better understand the links between the symptoms of COPD itself, psychological overlying factors and managing COPD.


Sources and Resources:

Berger, P. (2006). Social changes and stigma in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Burgess, K. Kunik, S. and Stanley, B. (2005). Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: Assessing and treating psychological issues in patients with COPD. Geriatrics, 1818-1821.

DR. THOMAS W. MILLER, PH.D, ABPP

Thomas W. Miller, Ph.D., ABPP, is a professor emeritus and senior research scientist, Center for Health, Intervention and Prevention, University of Connecticut; retired service chief from the VA Medical Center; and tenured professor in the Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine, University of Kentucky.

more articles by Dr thomas w. miller