The Overlooked Role of the Mind in COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is linked to symptoms like chronic cough, mucus production, and difficulty in breathing but that is not all. COPD patients also experience a huge psychological burden that is worth mentioning. Despite the fact that the psychological burden can be lifted off of the COPD patients’ shoulders, and even be reversed to help the patient get better, there has been a lack of attention to psychological aspects in clinical practice and treatment guidelines, in contrast to other medical fields like cardiology and oncology.
In the following, we will try to give you an insight on the relationship between the mind and the body when it comes to COPD. We will also be discussing potential protective factors that can lessen the negative impact of the disease on COPD patients’ mental well-being.
Let us start with the neuropsychological aspects of COPD: Cognitive deficits in patients are often attributed to reduced oxygenation of the brain tissue due to factors like hypoxia (low oxygen level), ischemia (low blood supply), or hypercapnia (high carbon dioxide level). These conditions can lead to decreased supply to the brain, affecting cognitive function. As a result, subtle cognitive declines in various mental tasks can be observed. In this context, it is of crucial importance to monitor cognitive functions in COPD patients, as they can impact daily functioning and even mortality.
Pulmonary rehabilitation and physical exercises could play an important role in mental functioning in COPD patients, because of the increased blood circulation and oxygenation. However, the cognitive improvements that come with the exercises may not last for long if the patient does not continue with them.
Another psychological aspect of COPD would be the personality. Even though the role of the patients’ personality in coping with COPD remains understudied, there are examples suggesting that extraversion and a respectful style of functioning may serve as protective factors, while personality traits such as hypochondria, depression and sensitivity seem to be more prevalent in COPD patients, making their situation harder.
Other than personality, mental health seems to be playing a defining role in COPD. Anxiety for instance is common in COPD patients and has symptoms that are related to shortness of breath, leading to panic attacks in about 50% of patients. Depression is also quite common and associated with poor prognosis, including increased hospitalizations and mortality.
The above mentioned issues are mostly underdiagnosed and undertreated in clinical practice. So, what can be done to address emotional problems in COPD patients? The interventions include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and self-management programs. Pulmonary rehabilitation can also improve the mood of the patient, but of course, more research is needed to see the effectiveness and the long-term impact on the patient. If you are interested in this topic, click here to find out more about the possible treatment methods of the psychological symptoms of COPD.
Last but not least, COPD patients tend to have a lower quality of life in comparison to the general population, and their quality of life shows a further decrease as the disease progresses. All the factors; neuropsychological functioning, personality traits or emotional problems like depression and anxiety, are closely related to quality of life. Moreover, factors like reduced lung function, dyspnea (shortness of breath), exacerbations, and social support can influence the quality of life. Understanding these factors and implementing appropriate interventions can help improve the well-being of COPD patients. Further research is needed to explore the relationships between these factors and develop effective interventions.
Overall, there is an urgent need for a more comprehensive understanding of psychological challenges faced by COPD patients. Understanding and addressing these challenges faced by COPD patients is essential to improve their mental health and overall quality of life.
At Breathment, we aim to focus on helping our patients gain control over their symptoms. We offer an interactive and integrated option for the preventive treatment of COPD from the comfort of your own home. Not only do we provide our patients with exercises to do so, we also provide relaxation techniques and educational content for them to reduce their stress and understand COPD better, aiming to help them with the psychological aspects as well. In addition to regular online health coaching, connect easily to ask questions: Your personal therapist is just a message or phone call away. You can also join our Facebook group to learn more about COPD and learn from the experience of other patients using Breathment.
Book your first online therapy to find out more about our approach to respiratory care and about the Breathment Therapy App for free.