Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a disease that affects nearly 24 million Americans, is often associated with fears and avoid specific physical activity of the disease. Little is known about the structural brain processes that occur in patients with COPD. A study published in the February issue of the journal Chest found that COPD patients demonstrated decreased gray matter in areas of the brain that process dyspnea, fear and pain sensitivity.
The study found that patients with COPD show a decrease in regional gray matter volume in the anterior, middle and posterior cingulate cortex, hippocampus and amygdala. The levels of degeneration in certain brain areas were also affected by the duration of the disease. Those individuals showed greater fear of breathlessness and fear of physical activity, which can affect the course of the disease.
The researchers tested 30 patients with stable subjects with moderate to severe COPD and 30 control with no history of the disease. All study participants were subjected to a compatibility test for structural magnetic resonance images of the brain. Patients were also tested for lung function by spirometry, and evaluated with anxiety COPD Questionnaire (CAF).
“Targeting specific fears of the disease in patients with COPD might not only improve the results of clinical interventions, such as pulmonary rehabilitation, but also reverse structural changes in the brain in these patients,” said Andreas von Leupoldt, PhD psychology Group Health Research at the University of Leuven in Belgium.
The full study, brain changes in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, can be seen in the February issue of the journal Chest.