Can mental disorders increase your risk of COPD?

by Rebecca Israel, MS. Reviewed by Charles Li, MD

August 07, 2020

  • People with depression, anxiety disorder, and alcohol abuse disorder have an increased odds of developing COPD.

  • Cases of COPD are on the rise, globally.

  • People are more likely to die from COPD today than thirty years ago.

copd and mental disorders title

COPD is a lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. In people with COPD, the airways become narrow and damaged. This makes people feel out of breath and tired.


The most common risk factor for COPD is smoking. Exposure to toxic fumes and gases can also increase someone’s risk of developing COPD. Researchers are also exploring risk factors that are less obviously related to lung health. For example, scientists have established relationships between COPD and a few different mental disorders.

Mental disorders and the odds of a COPD diagnosis

To measure the association between COPD and mental disorders, researchers collected population surveys from 19 different countries with a total of 52,095 participants. This sample size is larger enough for researchers to generalize the results, meaning that the results apply to everyone in most cases. They looked for participants who had been diagnosed with a mental disorder and COPD at the same time for at least a year. With this information, they calculated whether or not having a mental disorder increased their risk of COPD.

Does have a mental disorder increase the odds of developing COPD?

Source: Associations between DSM-IV mental disorders and subsequent COPD diagnosis

 The odds of COPD were strongest in participants with depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and alcohol abuse disorder.

The odds of COPD were greatest in participants with depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and alcohol abuse disorder. The results are novel, because there is no prior evidence that mental states can hurt the lungs. It is more evident for alcohol abuse disorder to be associated with COPD, because excessive alcohol consumption is known to damage almost every organ in the human body. The health behaviors and physiology of those with depression or generalized anxiety disorder have a less glaring path COPD.

Why does this matter?

COPD is a serious disease with no cure. COPD patients are at increased risk for life-threatening conditions like pneumonia, lung cancer, and heart problems. Those other conditions that inhibit breathing are more common, COPD is also more deadly.

For example, asthma was the most common respiratory disease globally in 2015. It is estimated that the number of cases is double that of COPD cases. However, there were 400 thousand reported deaths from asthma, compared to 3.2 million deaths from COPD. This makes deaths from COPD about eight times more common than deaths from asthma.

 The number of annual COPD cases increased by 44.2% and the number of deaths increased by 11.6%.

Source: Global, regional, and national deaths, prevalence, disability-adjusted life years, and years lived with disability for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma, 1990–2015: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015

The burden of COPD on the world's population is worse than ever before. A study compared the number of cases and deaths attributed to COPD between 1990 and 2015. The number of annual cases increased by 44.2% and the number of deaths increased by 11.6%. These numbers are striking and should motivate physicians and public health experts to research the root causes of this uptake.

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