London | Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) show decrease in grey matter in areas of the brain that process breathlessness, fear and sensitivity to pain, a new study has found. COPD is a lung disease that makes it hard to breathe and is caused by damage to the lungs from many years, usually from smoking. It is often associated with disease-specific fears and avoidance of physical activity.
Researchers from University of Leuven in Belgium tested 30 stable outpatients with moderate-to-severe COPD and 30 control subjects with no history of the disease. All study participants underwent Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) compatibility check to obtain structural brain images. Patients were also tested for lung function using spirometry, and assessed with the COPD Anxiety Questionnaire (CAF).
The study found patients with COPD showed regionally decreased grey matter volume in the anterior, mid, and posterior cingulate cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala. Levels of degeneration in certain areas of the brain were also impacted by longer disease duration.
Those individuals showed a greater fear of breathlessness and fear of physical activity, which can affect the course of the disease. Targeting disease-specific fears in patients with COPD might not only improve outcomes of clinical interventions such as pulmonary rehabilitation, but also reverse structural brain changes in these patients, said Andreas von Leupoldt from the University of Leuven.