As if having COPD wasn't tricky enough to manage, you might be surprised that depression often goes hand and hand with having COPD. In fact, a study in the International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease estimated 40 percent of COPD sufferers have clinical depression.
One reason may be because COPD patient's quality of life can be strongly impaired by their condition. Plus, emotions can run helter skelter from anxiety, panic and sadness, to worry. Not to mention, it can be downright frightening to lose your breath and struggle to catch it when your COPD flares up. These emotions can get the better of you making you feel down or depressed. Signs of depression include:
- Being sad for weeks or crying frequently
- Feeling hopeless or even suicidal
- Being overly sensitive
- Feeling guilty or worthless
But with 24 million people suffering with COPD, you're not alone in these feelings, and there's nothing to be ashamed about.
One problem is that depression may then negatively affect your COPD, worsening it, according to another study in the journal CHEST, which found breathlessness, reduced exercise tolerance and hopelessness increased when COPD patients suffer from depression.
"We have found a previously unknown link between the brain and COPD," said lead researcher Dr. Abebaw Mengistu Yohannes, reader at Manchester Metropolitan University, an expert in COPD and mental health. "Mental health can have repercussions elsewhere in body, in this case, exacerbating the negative effects of COPD and poor prognosis in health outcomes."
Essentially, researchers think we need to treat the brain in order to treat the lungs, and this is something both the COPD sufferer and health practitioner should be aware of, the study points out.
Treating the Head with the Lungs
The research looked at 1,589 patients over a three-year period and found that more than half didn't experience depressive symptoms while almost a quarter of patients were classified as permanently depressed and 14 percent developed depression during their three-year follow-up.
COPD patients were asked to complete a six-minute walking test and quality of life scale during the study. Those with depression performed worse in exercise tolerance and impaired quality of life than COPD patients who weren't depressed.
For patients who are admitted for treatment with short term exacerbation of COPD, a mental health screening should accompany treatment and be an important part of a management plan, discharge instructions and follow up care.
Researchers concluded that depression in COPD is both chronic and not treated adequately. Being aware of the connection could help you manage both conditions.
The Silver Lining
The good news is that depression can be successfully monitored and treated in turn, improving COPD, but you must tell your health care professional if you're feeling depressed or anxious.
Learning about living with COPD can also help both diseases since understanding what's happening in your lungs and learning breathing techniques to cope can prevent exacerbations and help you stay in control of your breathing.
Staying active also helps with both COPD and depression. Doing some type of exercise that you're able to do helps your fitness, strength, flexibility and frame of mind. "Certainly in COPD, exercise is important for many reasons and has been shown to improve outcomes. So, if you think you might be depressed, you should attend to this, get treatment, and work on getting back to a regular exercise routine. Evidence suggests that this is the best way to optimize your treatment for COPD," says Mark Aloia, PhD, a health psychologist and Global Lead at Phillips Health Tech.
"The relationship between depression and exercise is not at all specific to COPD, but it is highlighted in the disease. Exercise helps depression in many studies, though one should not think of it as a cure for depression," says Aloia.
A pulmonary rehabilitation program or COPD support group can also help you learn from experts as well as other patients on how to best manage your disease and prevent depression or depressive episodes from worsening COPD.
COPD is a challenging disease but working carefully with your healthcare provider and being aware of the depression connection can put you one step ahead.