Scientists have found that having chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may impact the areas of our brains that process breathlessness, fear and sensitivity to pain.
Anxiety related to breathlessness is a significant problem for people with COPD, and can affect a person’s willingness to do physical activities – which can therefore impact on their condition.
The study, published in the journal, Chest, involved 30 people with moderate-to-severe COPD and 30 people who did not have the condition. To find out whether COPD affected the brain, each participant completed several tests, including a brain scan, a lung function test, and a questionnaire designed to assess anxiety levels in people with COPD.
After comparing the scans, the researchers found that there were differences in the brain structure of people with COPD and those who did not have the condition.
In particular, the areas of the brain that process breathlessness, fear, and sensitivity to pain – three important aspects of COPD – had undergone structural changes that had weakened their function in people with COPD. They also found that these changes were more obvious in people who had been living with the condition for longer.
The researchers believe that confronting these fears and anxieties could help to reverse these changes in the brain and allow them to better manage their COPD.
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