The dyspnea-anxiety-dyspnea cycle--COPD patients' stories of breathlessness: "It's scary /when you can't breathe"

Qual Health Res. 2004 Jul;14(6):760-78. doi: 10.1177/1049732304265973.


Dyspnea, the major symptom associated with acute exacerbation events of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), is a subjective experience. Extensive research has been done on the pathophysiology and affective components of dyspnea; however, the precise physical mechanism of breathlessness remains elusive. One purpose of this narrative research was to explore the affective component of dyspnea/anxiety as described by patients living with COPD characterized by acute illness events. Ten patient-family units participated in interviews during an acute episode of the patient's lung disease. They described their understanding of acute dyspnea as an experience inextricably related to anxiety and emotional functioning. Their stories suggest that given the absence of clear objective measures of illness severity, patient-reported anxiety might provide an important marker during acute exacerbation events. Health care providers need to recognize anxiety as an important and potentially measurable sign of invisible dyspnea for end-stage patients with COPD in acute respiratory distress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Anxiety / complications
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Caregivers
  • Dyspnea / complications
  • Dyspnea / psychology*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Family Health
  • Humans
  • Narration*
  • Ontario
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / complications
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / psychology*