COPD And Depression: What To Know

Some people with COPD experience depression. (1) But it’s often undiagnosed and untreated in the COPD Community. With a proper diagnosis and treatment, it’s completely manageable, and possibly even reversible. Here’s what to know about COPD and depression.

Depression is a real disorder.

It’s defined best by Merriam-Webster: “Depression is “a mood disorder marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, feelings of dejection and hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal tendencies.” (2)

It’s common among The COPD community.

About 6% of the general population suffers from depression. It’s completely treatable, and most cases go into complete remission with treatment. Still, only about 35% receive proper treatment. (3) But, among the COPD population, 40% suffer from depression. Plus, less than a third are diagnosed and treated. (1, 5)  A similar condition that often goes along with depression is anxiety. I discuss anxiety in my post, “Links Between COPD and Anxiety”

Why it happens remains a mystery.

There are some theories. Inhaling chemicals and irritants causes your immune system to release chemicals. These chemicals are what cause COPD. One theory is that some of these chemicals get into your systemic blood circulation. They may also get into your brain and cause changes there. And this, the theory suggests, is why some COPDers develop anxiety and depression. A second theory suggests that nicotine affects nicotine receptors in your brain. This also may cause anxiety and depression. These theories may explain COPD related depression. (4-6)

Depression can worsen COPD.

Sometimes depression causes people to forget to take their medicine. It may prevent them from avoiding their COPD triggers and make it difficult to quit smoking. It may prevent them from staying active, making them less tolerant to exercise. It may cause them to refrain from socializing and living normal, functioning lives. It can decrease the immune response that defends against respiratory infections. The combination of these may increase the likelihood and frequency of COPD flare-ups. This causes them to need unscheduled doctor and emergency room visits for COPD. (1, 4-6)

It can blunt how bad a flare-up is.

Feeling depressed may blunt how severe their symptoms are. This may cause people to ignore symptoms that need treatment. It may cause them to stay home when they should seek help. So, expect to be screened. Past COPD guidelines didn’t recommend screening for depression. Expect this to change soon. (1, 4)

Some doctors are already screening patients for depression.

I know my doctor’s office has. Treatment can improve your quality of life. Researchers are working overtime to learn the best strategies for treating depression. At the present time, treatment options include:

  • Antidepressants. They alter chemicals in your mind that affect your mood, thereby helping you to feel normal again.
  • Anxiolytics. They help reduce anxiety to help you relax.
  • Relaxation Therapy. This teaches you relaxation techniques such as breathing techniques and body positioning. (6)
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This teaches you skills to better manage life with a chronic disease. (1, 6)
  • Pulmonary Rehabilitation. It teaches you about your disease and what exercises work best for you. It helps you stay active. (1, 6)
  • Other. Your doctor may have other options for helping you feel better and live better.

What to make of this? Depression is a real disease that is treatable. Screening tools should allow physicians to diagnose depression. This is part of the ongoing goal of helping all COPDers live better and longer.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The COPD.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
View References
  1. Stage, et al., “Depression in COPD – management and quality of life considerations, ”International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease,” 2006, Sept. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2707161/, accessed 8/27/17
  2. “Depression,” Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/depression, accessed 9/27/17
  3. “Depression,” Mental Health America, http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/depression, accessed 9/27/17
  4. Yohannes, Abebaw M., George S. Alexopoulos, “Depression And Anxiety In Patients With COPD,” 2014, http://err.ersjournals.com/content/23/133/345, accessed 9/27/17
  5. Maurer, et al., “Anxiety and Depression in COPD,” Chest, 2008, Oct. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2849676/, accessed 9/30/17
  6. Pumar, et al., “Anxiety and depression -- Important psychological comorbidities of COPD,” Journal of Thoracic Disease, 2014, Nov., https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160503104627.htm, accessed 10/1/17

Comments

View Comments (3)
  • farrisj6
    11 months ago

    Thanks for providing me with information. I hope to learn more about this illness. I’m still struggling with the symptoms. I love listening to Mike Hess.would appreciate notifications on his speeches. I’m also having trouble with family dealing with my illness. So far they think I’m lazy. Sorry I’m rambling. I’m really quite shy. Would appreciate any help I can get.

  • John Bottrell, RRT moderator author
    10 months ago

    Hi. Farrisj6. You are not alone in gaining support and empathy from family members. One reason this is so hard is because COPD is an invisible disease (https://copd.net/living/the-invisible-vs-visible/). You can see a cast if you have a broken arm. But there is not cast that says you have COPD. So, this can make it hard to get others to understand. Lucky for you, this topic has been discussed on this site before. Here is a link if you are interested. Pay particular attention to the answers, as there are some pretty good tips provided by some other community members just like you and some of our experts. Hope this helps. https://copd.net/q-and-a/can-explain-copd-family/

  • Allyson.Ellis moderator
    11 months ago

    Hello farrisj6 and welcome to the community! I am so glad your are finding good information here on the site that is helpful to you. Learning about COPD is a process, as is learning to live with it following a diagnosis. I am so sorry you are struggling with family dynamics related to your COPD. Please know you are not alone in that experience. May members struggle with family members who do not understand and also think they are lazy. You are not lazy! It can be very hard to help others understand the nature of the disease and just how hard it becomes to do things that used to come with ease. COPD is often called an invisible illness because so often others cannot see just how badly you feel on the inside. It doesn’t always present itself like diseases that are more outwardly visible. This article may resonate with you: https://copd.net/answers/looking-fine-versus-feeling-fine/ If they would be receptive, encourage your family members to spend some time on this site as well, so they can get an overview of what COPD is and what it is like for those who live with it. Also, if you type the word “family” into the search at the top right of the page under the COPD.net banner, you will get a variety of other articles on family members who do not understand and ideas on how to help educate about COPD.

    I hope this helps you and gives you a few places to start. We are always here to listen and offer support, so please reach out whenever you need it! If you haven’t already, also check out the facebook group where we regularly post articles (that are also found here on the site) and members comment and support one another, along with the site moderators! https://www.facebook.com/COPDDotNet/

    Best, Allyson (site moderator)

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