A new study shows that the symptoms of COPD may be worse in patients who also experience depression. In a recent study, patients who had pre-existing depression or developed depression after COPD diagnosis were more likely to experience heightened COPD symptoms, including increased breathlessness, hopelessness, and reduced exercise tolerance. The researchers examined 1,589 patients over a 3-year period and discovered that more than half did not experience any depressive symptoms. In addition, almost a quarter of COPD patients were classified as permanently depressed.

Also, 14% of the COPD patients developed a ‘case’ for depression during the 3-year follow-up. The participants were asked to complete a 6-minute walking test and quality of life scale. The COPD patients with depression performed worse in exercise tolerance and impaired quality of life than the patients without depression. According to a Science Daily news report, the researchers concluded that depression in COPD is chronic and not adequately treated.

“We have found a previously unknown link between the brain and COPD. Mental health can have repercussions elsewhere in body, in this case, exacerbating the negative effects of COPD and poor prognosis in health outcomes,” says lead researcher Dr Abebaw Mengistu Yohannes. “Essentially, we can treat the brain to treat the lungs and this is something health practitioners should be aware of when working with COPD patients.”

The Science Daily news report notes that the results have implications for healthcare providers who could possibly screen for mental health problems periodically in patients with a history of difficulty coping at home, poor adherence to therapy, or experience of a recent loss, in an effort to reduce COPD-related hospital readmission.

“[The study] creates a strong argument for vigorous screening of mental health problems in patients who are admitted in the short term for exacerbations of COPD. Managing mental health problems associated with COPD should be an important part of the management plan for the short term as well as the discharge planning with longer-term follow-up,” says Dr Mengistu Yohannes.

Sources: Science Daily, Manchester Metropolitan University