The experience of stigma in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

West J Nurs Res. 2011 Nov;33(7):916-32. doi: 10.1177/0193945910384602. Epub 2010 Oct 12.


People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can experience severe dyspnea, tenacious secretions, and a disruptive cough. They often struggle with daily activities and over time tend to decrease the amount of time they spend outside the home. The functional decline accompanying these changes is not adequately explained by physical changes alone. This descriptive, qualitative study describes social changes and experiences of stigma from the perspective of people with moderate to severe COPD. A total of 16 participants (11 men, 5 women) participated in individual interviews regarding effects of COPD on social relationships and experiences with COPD-related stigma. Participants were aware of the potential for stigma related to COPD. Emerging themes included the prevalence of blame related to smoking, both from others, including health care providers, and from themselves. Although many decreases in social activities appear to be pragmatic adaptations to functional limitations, these decisions may also be attempts to avoid potentially stigmatizing situations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prejudice
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / psychology*
  • Stereotyping*