Illness perceptions and COPD: an emerging field for COPD patient management

J Asthma. 2008 Oct;45(8):625-9. doi: 10.1080/02770900802127048.


Objective: Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease have perceptions of their illness and its management that determine their coping behaviors (e.g., adherence, self-management) and, consequently, their outcomes. This article reviews the empirical literature on illness perceptions in patients with COPD to provide clinicians with information regarding the potential utility of incorporating illness perceptions into clinical COPD care.

Method: A literature search in PubMed identified 16 studies examining associations between illness perceptions and outcomes in patients with COPD.

Results: Seven of the 16 papers were from US authors, followed by 3 each from the UK and The Netherlands, and one study each from Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. The first study was published in 1983, and the numbers of patients per study ranged fom 10 to 266. The illness perceptions were those delineated by two theoretical models (cognitive behavioral theory and the Common Sense Model), and they were assessed with open interviews and validated questionnaires. Outcomes were disability, quality of life, and psychological characteristics. The studies revealed clinically meaningful associations between illness perceptions and outcomes.

Conclusion: Our review supports the incorporation of illness perceptions into clinical care for patients with COPD. The assessment of illness perceptions should be routine, similar to routine assessments of pulmonary function. Discussing and changing illness perceptions will improve COPD patients' quality of life and reduce their levels of disability. COPD-specific assessments ("diagnosis") of illness perceptions and COPD-specific intervention methods ("therapy") that help change inadequate and maladaptive illness perceptions are research priorities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / psychology*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / therapy*
  • Quality of Life
  • Treatment Outcome