Mental Health Conditions Linked to COPD

What kinds of mental health conditions are common for people with COPD?

Living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can be very stressful. It can also make a person feel sad or frightened. For these reasons and many others, people with COPD often have:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety

It is also common for people with COPD to have both depression and anxiety.

What is depression?1

Everyone feels sad some of the time, but people who have depression feel sad all of the time. They may lose interest in activities that they used to enjoy doing. Depression can affect all of a person’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. It can also cause:

  • Low energy levels
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling too dependent on others

What is the link between depression and COPD?1,2

Living with COPD can be make it hard for people to take part in activities they enjoy, such as:

  • Working
  • Doing everyday physical activities
  • Spending time with friends and family

Over time, people with COPD might develop depression because they cannot take part in these kinds of everyday activities. They may feel isolated, alone, and helpless. Smokers who have COPD might also feel depressed if they are unable to quit smoking.

What is anxiety?1

Everyone feels anxious sometimes, but for people with an anxiety disorder the feeling does not go away. The feeling often gets worse over time. It can include symptoms like:

  • Panic attacks
  • Sweating
  • Nervousness
  • Chest pains
  • Nightmares
  • Breathing problems

What is the link between anxiety and COPD?1

Feeling breathless and having COPD attacks (also called “exacerbations”) can be scary and upsetting. People with COPD may also be worried about how the disease will affect their lives in the future. This can lead to feeling anxious and fearful much of the time.

Some medicines for COPD can also cause certain people to develop anxiety:

  • Bronchodilators, like albuterol
  • Theophylline
  • High-dose corticosteroids

How common are anxiety and depression for people with COPD?1,2,4

Anxiety and depression are very common for people with COPD. Up to half of COPD patients may have depression at some point. Patients with more severe COPD are more likely to have depression than patients in the earlier stages. Patients with depression are also more likely to have COPD attacks.

Around one in five COPD patients feel anxious even while their disease is under control. More people have anxiety that is caused by having a COPD attack. Up to half of patients who have just had a COPD attack have serious anxiety symptoms.

Can depression and anxiety be treated?1,4

It is very important for COPD patients to seek help if they feel depressed or anxious on a regular basis or for more than a day or two at a time.
Depression and anxiety can make it difficult for a patient to follow the COPD treatment plan. This can make the patient’s COPD symptoms worse, and might even make the disease progress more quickly.

There are many ways to treat depression and anxiety, such as:

  • Medicines that lessen anxiety and depression
  • Counseling and therapy
  • Support groups
  • Help quitting smoking
Written by: Anna Nicholson | Last reviewed: July 2015.
View References
  1. Cafarella P, et al. Treatments for anxiety and depression in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: A literature review. Respirology (2012) 17, 627–638.
  2. Global Strategy for the Diagnosis, Management and Prevention of COPD, Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) 2014. Available from: http://www.goldcopd.org/.
  3. Yohannes AM and Alexopoulos GS. Depression and anxiety in patients with COPD. Eur Respir Rev 2014; 23: 345–349
  4. Cantor L and Jacobson R. COPD: How to manage comorbid depression and anxiety. Current Psychiatry 2003;2(11). Available at: http://www.currentpsychiatry.com/home/article/copd-how-to-manage-comorbid-depression-and-anxiety/01830064d763afe269484c02b1cc6a6f.html [Accessed 16 January 2015.]