PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Anxiety is common for people dealing with chronic ailments.
However, it's especially common in COPD.
For the 16 million Americans with COPD, breathing becomes increasingly difficult, as blockages in the lungs worsen over time.
When the breath becomes shallow, the brain sometimes thinks there's a stressful situation at hand, even if there isn't.
Temple Health pulmonologist Dr. Victor Kim says it can become a vicious cycle.
"When you're breathless constantly, that could provoke some anxiety," says Dr. Kim.
Then anxiety can make symptoms worse.
"Because of their impaired lungs, they will feel more and more breathless just by breathing rapidly," he notes.
People with COPD have more than 1 and a half times the rate of anxiety and depression as those without it.
"Which can affect their treatment and outcomes," he says. "They report worse symptoms, they report more hospitalizations, more COPD exacerbations."
But Dr. Kim says patients and doctors seldom discuss emotions, unaware there's a physical connection.
However, studies on congestive heart failure show that treating the heart can improve the mind.
And vice versa.
"That if you improve their mood symptoms with an antidepressant, for example, that can actually have some effect on outcomes from their congestive heart failure," he says.
Dr. Kim says the growing number of COPD patients should know that the anxiety isn't in their heads, and they should talk to their doctors about it because there are ways to deal with it.
"Coping strategies, education, and different maneuvers that patients with COPD to can do to improve their breathing when they develop that shortness of breath," he says.
He suggests COPD patients join a support group.
The groups help patients know they're not alone in COPD.
They provide a platform for learning and share day-by-day strategies for managing their disease.