Effects of medical and psychological treatment of depression in patients with COPD--a review

Respir Med. 2011 Oct;105(10):1422-33. doi: 10.1016/j.rmed.2011.05.014. Epub 2011 Jun 15.


Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung disease characterized by progressive and only partially reversible symptoms and by considerable negative consequences such as reductions in functional status and quality of life. Comorbid depression is highly prevalent in patients with COPD and related to a worse course of the disease. Despite its negative impact, depression often remains unrecognized and untreated in COPD patients. This review summarizes the current state of findings from studies examining the effects of antidepressant treatments in patients with COPD. Reviewed treatment options are antidepressant medical therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Antidepressant medical trials include treatments with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) or tricyclic antidepressants (TCA); CBT was applied using various components. Across both treatment types, the majority of studies included patients with a wide range of psychiatric conditions and especially comorbid symptoms of anxiety were often not controlled. Furthermore, greatly varying instruments and methods for assessing depressive symptoms, small sample sizes and rather heterogeneous results were observed. This makes the comparison of treatment options rather difficult and prevents definite conclusions. However, some important implications valuable for further research were obtained. Some limited data suggested that SSRI might show fewer side effects than TCA. A few antidepressants as well as beneficial effects in other outcomes were observed after antidepressant medical treatment. More clearly, CBT showed some potential in terms of improvements in depressive symptoms, and also in other outcome measures. Patient compliance seems more promising for CBT than for antidepressant medical treatment. Overall, the reviewed studies suggest some promising effects for both treatment types and effect sizes in studies with significant antidepressant effects were reasonable. However, future randomized controlled trials comparing antidepressant medical and cognitive-behavioral therapy will be essential to assess distinct and most favorable treatment effects. Because recent data is often limited, sound diagnostic criteria of depression and adequate sample sizes are necessary to draw firm conclusions on the effects of these antidepressant treatment options in patients with COPD and comorbid depression.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / therapeutic use
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy*
  • Depressive Disorder / drug therapy
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Depressive Disorder / rehabilitation
  • Depressive Disorder / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / psychology*
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors