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.

view references
  1. Stage, et al., “Depression in COPD – management and quality of life considerations, ”International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease,” 2006, Sept., accessed 8/27/17
  2. “Depression,” Merriam-Webster,, accessed 9/27/17
  3. “Depression,” Mental Health America,, accessed 9/27/17
  4. Yohannes, Abebaw M., George S. Alexopoulos, “Depression And Anxiety In Patients With COPD,” 2014,, accessed 9/27/17
  5. Maurer, et al., “Anxiety and Depression in COPD,” Chest, 2008, Oct., accessed 9/30/17
  6. Pumar, et al., “Anxiety and depression -- Important psychological comorbidities of COPD,” Journal of Thoracic Disease, 2014, Nov.,, accessed 10/1/17
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