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Relating to COPD

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Across the U.S., over 11 million Americans have been diagnosed with the third leading cause of death: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (or COPD).

While millions manage their conditions with a combination of medication, oxygen therapy, muscle treatments, and surgery, millions more are living undiagnosed with the symptoms of COPD.

To understand the physical and emotional effects of COPD on Americans, we studied over 640 comments and posts added to the American Lung Association’s online COPD forum on Inspire.com. We looked for keywords and phrases to understand how living with COPD makes people feel and how deeply it can impact their daily lives. Continue reading to see what we learned.

The Emotional Effects of COPD

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If you have COPD, you might feel a shortness of breath, tightness in your chest, have a chronic cough, and a serious lack of energy. When COPD flares up (which can be caused by pollution in the air or an infection), those symptoms can worsen significantly. While it’s best not to panic in these moments, it can be hard not to feel anxious or depressed knowing a flare-up could occur at any moment.

According to hundreds of people and posts on Inspire.com, the stress caused by COPD can occur when struggling to accept a recent diagnosis, not knowing how COPD will affect other family members, and the effects of a flare-up on the body.

While breathing techniques and relaxing activities (like yoga) may be helpful in reducing the feelings of anxiety and stress, physical devices can also help reduce the impact of COPD. However, some people may be unsure if COPD qualifies them for oxygen therapy concentrators or where to go with questions about these devices once they have them.

From Knowing to Feeling

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So what does it really feel like to live with COPD?

For millions of Americans, COPD can make them feel scared, alone, and weak. As a result of the changes COPD can cause to the body, it’s not uncommon for depression and sadness to occur. According to at least one study, 40 percent of patients diagnosed with COPD also suffer from depression. In some cases, mental anguish can worsen the physical symptoms of COPD or keep people from following instructions given by a doctor or physician.

Beyond seeking care for depression, it’s important to recognize COPD treatments that may be available to you. Oxygen treatments, like the ones provided by POCs (portable oxygen concentrators), can provide both short- and long-term relief to people with COPD, helping them live longer and enjoy more of life along the way.

Overcoming the Limitations of COPD

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Without asking, it can be hard to imagine what people might want after learning they’ve been diagnosed with COPD.

According to hundreds of posts and comments on Inspire.com, while many people want to feel better or discover the options available to them, some Americans with COPD have a simple request: to feel normal. In fact, one person stated they “[Want] to get out,” while another said they “[want] to mow [their] own grass” or “walk one mile.” Oxygen therapy solutions can help patients with COPD feel more comfortable in their bodies by reducing the feeling of breathlessness and increasing their ability to exercise regularly.

While portable oxygen tanks and oxygen concentrators provide similar functions, an oxygen concentrator is smaller in size, lighter, and more convenient to travel with, helping to increase the freedom people with COPD have while still receiving the treatment they need.

What People With COPD Are Talking About

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By studying over 640 posts on the Inspire.com forums for COPD, we were able to determine which words were used most often by people discussing symptoms, seeking information, and sharing their experiences.

Beyond mentions of the condition itself, the most commonly used word across hundreds of posts and comments was “oxygen.” COPD creates low levels of oxygen in the bloodstream, which can lead to severe side effects like hypoxia that includes symptoms like wheezing, feeling out of breath while asleep, and frequent coughing.

Early signs of COPD – which can go undiagnosed for millions of Americans – include similar symptoms. If you’re experiencing a consistent cough, mucous, tiredness, or a shortness of breath, you should consult a physician as soon as possible.

Other popular words on the Inspire.com forum for COPD included “lung,” “doctor,” “pulmonary,” and “diagnosed.”

What People Want to Know

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One of the most common words found on the Inspire.com forums for COPD was “diagnosed.”

In reality, COPD is often misdiagnosed, and patients with similar symptoms (particularly those who have a history of smoking) can be told they have COPD when their symptoms are a similar or less common lung condition. In contrast, millions of people can go completely undiagnosed with COPD and live for years with the condition until it has advanced beyond repair or control. Many tests will need to be done to properly diagnose COPD, including lung function tests, X-rays, CT scans, and a blood gas analysis.

After being diagnosed, many people cited the word “stage” when discussing COPD online. COPD is considered a progressive illness and is classified over the course of four stages. Beginning with the mild stage and ending with the very severe, treatment options for COPD can change as symptoms worsen.

Emotional Reactions to COPD

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Just how serious can the negative emotional effects of COPD become?

When discussing how COPD feels, the most commonly used word was “bad.” From the physical symptoms to feelings of restriction, traveling with the fear of flare-ups or worsening conditions can leave patients downtrodden. Another common emotion was embarrassment. Certain symptoms (including coughing and wheezing) can be hard to mask, and if your treatment plan includes a conventional oxygen tank for oxygen therapy, you may feel embarrassed by its size or appearance.

Other common emotions patients regularly mentioned feeling included pain, confusion, fear, and weakness. If you’ve been recently diagnosed or your COPD has progressed, you may want to speak with a doctor about appropriate treatment options to help ease your concerns.

Breathing Better With COPD
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COPD is a chronic lung condition that largely affects the way patients breathe, particularly while active or in motion. While COPD is mostly caused by smoking, it can be a direct result of pollution in the air, genetics, infections, and even low levels of protein.

When mentioning “air” or “oxygen,” the most common phrases used in the forums were “gasping,” “trapping,” “bad,” and “severe.” Flare-ups can prove quite serious and may last several days at a time.

“Therapy” was another common phrase searched for in addition to oxygen. Oxygen therapy can reduce the fear of worsened symptoms as well as the feeling of breathlessness experienced by COPD.

Living Your Best Life Today

For the millions of Americans living with COPD, it can be an emotionally turbulent journey. Misunderstanding your options and what living with COPD is truly like may leave you with unanswered questions and looking for support or advice.

If you or someone you love has COPD, portable oxygen therapy can enhance your quality of life. At Inogen, our goal is to help you find freedom and continue doing the things that make you you. Our innovative portable oxygen delivery systems are lightweight and designed to go along wherever life takes you. No tanks, no deliveries, and no more hassle. Visit our product page to learn more about how oxygen therapy can change your life today.


To relate to one’s struggles with COPD, we analyzed over 640 primary posts made on the American Lung Association’s Inspire.com COPD forum as of mid-August 2017. These posts were made up of people searching for answers related to COPD, as well as their stories and personal experiences.

The keyness and collocation analyses were performed using AntCont. Keyness is the quality of a word or phrase related to how “key” it is to the context of the text. Words with a higher keyness occur more frequently than expected, compared to a reference corpus of text – 250,000 tweets. Collocation is the proximity of certain words to other words with a frequency value greater than chance.

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