July 24, 2018

Anxiety and depression in people with lung disease: Try not to worry

Dr Lissa Spencer, Physiotherapist, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney

Shortness of breath is the most common symptom for people living with a chronic lung disease. It leads to weakness in your muscles, which makes it difficult for you to do as much as you would like, such as keeping up with friends and family. Life becomes more and more difficult and many people feel symptoms of anxiety and panic, especially when you can’t catch your breath.

Anxiety and depression are more common than you think. In fact in people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), 25% experience symptoms of depression, and approximately 40% experience symptoms of anxiety. People with COPD are also 10 times more likely to experience panic disorder or panic attacks compared with the general population1.

Some of the main symptoms of depression include low mood, loss of interest in daily activities, fatigue or low energy levels. The main symptoms of anxiety are fear, restlessness, sleep disturbances and reduced concentration and memory. It is important that you seek help if you are feeling any of these symptoms as early diagnosis by your health professional is important.

The good news is, there are things that can be done to help. There is evidence available for the effectiveness of medication, cognitive behavioural therapy, exercise programs such as pulmonary rehabilitation, relaxation therapy and palliative care in COPD2. Not everyone will need all of these therapies however it is important to talk to your health professional about the best options for you and your lifestyle.

One of the most promising interventions to manage depression and anxiety in people with COPD is pulmonary rehabilitation. Pulmonary rehabilitation consists of exercise training, education and support. It helps you to learn and understand more about your lung condition, manage your breathlessness, and get your confidence back. Evidence is also emerging for the effectiveness of pulmonary rehabilitation in other lung conditions such as bronchiectasis, Interstitial Lung Disease and lung cancer. The experts who run the programs will design a program to suit you and your needs, no matter the stage of your condition. No one is too severe to benefit from attending pulmonary rehabilitation.

Contact Lung Foundation Australia to find a pulmonary rehabilitation program near you.

1 Panagioti M, Scott C, Blakemore A, Coventry P A. Overview of the prevalence, impact, and management of depression and anxiety in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease International Journal of COPD. 2014:9 1289–1306
2 Cafarella PA, Effing TW, Usmani ZA, Frith PA. Treatments for anxiety and depression in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a literature review. Respirology. 2012 May;17(4):627-38.