COPD symptoms: what are they and how are they related?

Patients with chronic illnesses often have poor mental health. Anxiety or depression are two of the clinical entities most found in patients with COPD. Find out about their effects here.
COPD symptoms: what are they and how are they related?
Gorka Jiménez Pajares

Written and verified by the psychologist Gorka Jiménez Pajares.

Last update: 09 May, 2024

The body and the mind are twinned. As a result, the individual’s health and well-being converge as well as any illness or feelings of discomfort. Therefore, when they suffer from a chronic disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the psychological sphere plays a key role.

Although this is a controversial issue, anxiety symptoms, as well as signs of depression, have the potential to influence COPD. Furthermore, they seem to affect the quality of life perceived by sufferers. In fact, these clinical disorders have the potential to poison a patient’s functional performance.

“Mental health can have a significant impact on physical health, and vice versa.”

-National Institute of Mental Health-

The difficulties of suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

COPD is a pathology that chronically affects the lungs. Anxiety and depression are the conditions that most frequently occur alongside this illness (co-morbidity) (Kunik et al., 2005).

As lung disease progresses, it becomes more severe. Indeed, sufferers experience great difficulties in their daily activities. These are known as functional tasks.

Sufferers of COPD tend to exhibit a deficit in physical performance compared with other patients (Anegan et al., 2012, Troosters et al., 2010). For example, they walk slower, because their breathing capacity limits them.

“Patients with COPD may experience disability, decreased quality of life, and increased mortality.”

-Dr. Bartolomé Celli-

Patient with medical consultation
The researcher, Monira I. Aldhahi, points out that a poor state of mental health has a debilitating effect on functional performance.

According to research published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, led by Dr. Monira I. Aldahi, the majority of patients with lung disease also exhibit clinically significant anxiety symptoms. Moreover, the impact of anxiety in this disease results in less physical exercise.

As you’ll see later, this can be an element that feeds back into depressive symptoms. In fact, one of the conclusions of the above study was that increased anxiety and depression, in combination with poor physical condition, act synergistically. This produces low functional performance in sufferers of COPD.

Furthermore, anxiety has the potential to induce certain symptoms that aggravate COPD. For example, hyperpnea. This symptom causes the patient to experience an air deficit. In turn, it decreases their ability to perform physically. Consequently, they don’t perform physical exercise and their quality of life decreases.

Patient with COPD receives help from a nurse to walk with a walker
The lack of physical activity in patients with obstructive pulmonary disease leads to isolation and depression.

Depression also has the potential to exacerbate the severity of lung disease symptoms. At the same time, as a result of the deficit in physical exercise, there are reductions in activity levels. It causes sufferers to be more isolated from their significant others. This is also linked to depression (Bourbeau et al., 2009).

However, researchers don’t yet know the causes behind the change in the mental health of these patients. That said, a study published in BMJ Journals suggests that the deterioration in the quality of life, as well as social isolation and decreased economic income, are influential factors in the appearance of anxiety and depression in the context of COPD (van Manen et al., 2002).

It’s of paramount importance to identify the elements that intensify the symptoms of lung disease. Moreover, it’s imperative that investigations continue into how depressive symptoms, as well as anxiety, affect the condition.

The objective is clear. It consists of creating specific interventions that, on the one hand, prevent the onset of symptoms and, on the other, effectively intervene in them once they’ve occurred. As a result, sufferers would experience an improvement in their functional performance.

“COPD patients with elevated levels of anxiety and depression showed poorer functional performance and health-related quality of life than patients without anxiety.”

-Monira I. Aldhahi-

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Aldhahi, M. I., Baattaiah, B. A., Nazer, R. I., & Albarrati, A. (2023). Impact of Psychological Factors on Functional Performance among Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. International journal of environmental research and public health20(2), 1285.
  • Annegarn J., Spruit M.A., Savelberg H.H.C.M., Willems P.J.B., van de Bool C., Schols A.M.W.J., Wouters E.F.M., Meijer K. (2012). Differences in Walking Pattern during 6-Min Walk Test between Patients with COPD and Healthy Subjects. PLoS ONE, 7:e37329.
  • Bourbeau, J. (2009). Activities of Life: The COPD Patient, COPD. Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, 6(3), 192-200.
  • Troosters, T., Sciurba, F., Battaglia, S., Langer, D., Valluri, S. R., Martino, L., Benzo, R., Andre, D., Weisman, I., & Decramer, M. (2010). Physical inactivity in patients with COPD, a controlled multi-center pilot-study. Respiratory medicine104(7), 1005–1011.
  • van Manen JGBindels PJEDekker FW, et al. (2002). Risk of depression in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and its determinants.
  • Kunik M.E., Roundy K., Veazey C., Souchek J., Richardson P., Wray N.P., Stanley M.A. (2005). Surprisingly High Prevalence of Anxiety and Depression in Chronic Breathing Disorders. Chest, 127, 1205–1211.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.