Psychological effects of COPD

Written by DanielleBosely MS, NCSP | Fact checked by Psychology Dictionary staff 

COPD — otherwise known as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease — is a diagnosis that no one wants to hear. Despite that, over 3 million cases are reported each and every year in the United States. This disease brings with it intense breathlessness. Many people are under the impression that COPD is a distinct illness that stands on its own. It’s not. It’s actually more of an umbrella term that applies to several different progressive illnesses of the lungs. People with chronic bronchitis, emphysema, refractory asthma, and certain kinds of bronchiectasis all qualify as forms of COPD.

Side Effects

COPD comes with more than just a slew of physical side effects. It impacts the sufferer’s life in many ways, as well as their loved ones’ lives, too. Most of the time, individuals diagnosed with COPD worry about the long-term health effects that their illness with bring forth. Will they end up carrying an oxygen tank around with them unable to breathe without assistance? How will having COPD limit the medications and other treatments they’ll be able to utilize for other conditions? What kind of impact will COPD have on their personal life? How will they keep up with their children or grandchildren if they can barely breathe while sitting still?

All of these concerns often take their toll on a person’s mental health. It’s difficult to come to terms with an illness that takes away enjoyment from your life. For the father who can’t coach his son’s little league team anymore because of COPD, the illness actually impacts his relationship with his son. It hinders their ability to engage in a shared activity together that they’d long enjoyed, and cuts down on the time they get to spend together.

In addition, COPD sufferers may find that getting around in general is a bit harder than it used to be. They may suffer from intense coughing spells. At home, these episodes are little more than uncomfortable and annoying, but in public it can be pretty embarrassing to endure several minutes of incessant coughing that won’t pass. For this reason, many people with COPD will avoid leaving the house altogether. This not only hinders their relationships with others, but it decreases the amount of physical activity they get, too. This can lead to further deteriorating health.

Mental Illness

As relationships and physical activity fall by the wayside, COPD sufferers might find themselves feeling lonely and dissatisfied with their lives and themselves. Depression is a lot more common among people with COPD than the general population. Around 40 percent of them suffer from some form of diagnosed depression, compared to just 6.7 percent of the country in general.

Anxiety is also a common issue that people with COPD face. Sometimes, this stems from incessant worry over encountering coughing spells in public or having to adhere to strict medication regimens and use an oxygen tank just to maintain an adequate air supply. There are support groups for people with COPD — especially on Internet-based forums and social media networks. Medications and behavioral therapy may also be useful in overcoming mental health disorders that plague people with COPD.

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