Patient coping strategies in COPD across disease severity and quality of life: a qualitative study
Quality of life (QoL) has a weak relationship with lung function (LF) impairment in COPD; some cope well despite poor LF, while others suffer disproportionate QoL impairment despite well-preserved LF. Adjuvant non-pharmacological interventions such as rehabilitation and psychological/behavioural support may help if acceptable and targeted appropriately, but are under-used and sometimes declined by patients. The aim of this study was to explore and understand variations in experiences and coping strategies in patients with different severities of disease and disease-specific QoL.
34 participants were purposively sampled across a spectrum of LF and QoL impairment, to cover a grid of sub-groups (‘very severe LF, good QoL’, moderate LF, poor QoL’ etc.). Semi-structured interviews, digitally recorded, were analysed by thematic analysis. Data saturation was achieved.
Four themes emerged: symptom impact, coping strategies, coping challenges, support needs. Most described employing multiple coping strategies yet over half reported significant challenges coping with COPD including: psychological impact, non-acceptance of diagnosis and/or disease progression, effects of co-morbidities and inadequate self-management skills. Approximately half wanted further help, ideally non-pharmacological, across all LF impairment groups but mainly with lower QoL. Those with lower QoL additionally reported greater psychological distress and greater use of non-pharmacological support strategies where accessible.
Patients who develop effective coping strategies, have better quality of life independent of objective LF, whereas others cope poorly, are aware of this, and report more use of non-pharmacological approaches. This study suggests that severely impaired QoL, irrelevant of lung function, is a powerful patient centred indication to explore the positive benefits of psychological and behavioural support for distressed COPD patients.