Lay Publications

The prevalence of PTSD and changes in PTSD symptoms following pulmonary rehabilitation

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common condition, which although treatable is often undetected. Sufferers of PTSD experience hyper arousal (when someone is easily startled and feels tense or “on edge” constantly), avoidance (when someone with actively avoids people or situations so they aren’t put in stress and potentially reminded of their traumatic experience), and reexperiencing of the event triggered by reminders of a traumatic experience. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is common, worsens over time and causes loss of strength and energy. It causes various problems such as cough and shortness of breath as well as potential disability such as  reduced physical activity. People with COPD frequently become socially isolated because they are physically limited so believe they cannot under take much social interactions. Some sufferers of COPD may be blamed for their own disease because they smoked. This study investigates the prevalence of PTSD in patients having chronic obstructive pulmonary rehabilitation and the impact of rehabilitation on PTSD symptoms
Breathlessness is frequently associated with anxiety, panic fear disorder, and depression. If people with COPD develop PTSD triggered by COPD symptoms, hyper arousal has the potential to aggravate breathlessness. In some people with COPD, a vicious circle can develop in which breathlessness can cause high levels of anxiety and panic, which in turn increase breathlessness.
Pulmonary rehabilitation is a broad program which helps to improve the quality of life of people who have breathing problems.  Patients with COPD attending pulmonary rehabilitation programs completed several surveys about if they had PTSD and how severe their COPD was. Questionnaires were completed at face to face interviews with participants one week before starting rehabilitation and at the end of the program.
PTSD was present in 8% of the COPD patients having pulmonary rehabilitation; the participants with PTSD reported worse health status than those without PTSD. After pulmonary rehabilitation, exercise capacity and quality of life scores improved significantly, but PTSD symptom severity did not change. Finally, PTSD symptoms did not improve following pulmonary rehabilitation although the rehabilitation did positively affect the COPD symptoms.