COPD Patients Struggle with More Than Breathing Difficulties

— New Survey Finds Daily Challenges with COPD Take Emotional Toll —

June 13, 2017

A new Health Union national survey, COPD In America 2017, of more than 2,000 individuals diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) reveals that patients struggle with a range of issues that go beyond difficulties with breathing.

The survey was released through Health Union’s online community,, and finds patients struggle with the emotional impact of COPD and often find their healthcare providers are not very helpful in addressing these issues.

COPD is a group of lung conditions, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema, where changes in the airways block the normal flow of air in and out of the lungs. More that 65 million people around the world have moderate to severe COPD, including 15 million U.S. adults.

Shortness of breath is the most common symptom and the most difficult symptom to manage, as reported by 84 percent of respondents, yet they also cited many other difficulties and frustrations. Survey respondents report experiencing fatigue and tiring easily (81 percent); being tired or weak when exercising (66 percent); wheezing/noisy breathing (52 percent); and chest tightness, pain or pressure (52 percent).

While many people think COPD is just a lung disease, the diminished oxygen resulting from damage to the lungs can affect every part of the body, explained Leon Lebowitz, respiratory therapist and contributor. Fatigue, for instance, is exacerbated by the lack of oxygen, making daily functioning more difficult.

“It is a difficult balancing act. Breathing is the primary issue – it is what brings people to the Emergency Department,” Lebowitz added. “People often come in and say ‘if I can breathe, I can deal with everything else.’ For a person to adjust, they have to learn to pace themselves. So if they have a bad day, they take it easy, and when it is a good day, they enjoy life.”

Another frequently reported yet mysterious symptom is rib cramping. Thirty-nine percent of respondents stated they experienced this symptom in the previous month. Forty-two percent reported they spoke to their doctor about it, but 69 percent of those said they walked away from the visit without a treatment or solution for the problem.

COPD In America 2017          COPD In America 2017 - describe in a word

The survey reveals the emotional impact of COPD can often take a back seat to the physical challenges, but it is often more overwhelming than perceived. For example, 51 percent of respondents reported problems with anxiety or panic disorders, and only 40 percent indicated their doctor was effective in helping them manage it.

“Depression is a real symptom of COPD,” said patient contributor Michelle Vincent. “Finding support groups was a huge boost. I like being able to talk to and get to know people who are going through the same things I am. It makes me feel like I’m not alone. I like being able to give back to the community too.”

Most respondents said they did not feel confident they could keep the emotional distress caused by COPD from interfering with their lives. In spite of this challenge, only 19 percent say they are currently involved in a COPD support group.

“The results of this survey clearly illustrate why has been so successful in providing support to people living with COPD,” said Tim Armand, president and co-founder of Health Union. “The world of the COPD patient can seem a lonely, confusing, and isolating place, but here they can find a community that understands, is willing to listen, and provides information they can use in their daily lives.”

A summary infographic of the survey results is also available.

The COPD In America 2017 survey was conducted online between February 28 and March 28, 2017. More details about the survey are available upon request; email

Current findings from COPD In America 2019 can be seen here.