Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

Veterans Crisis Line Badge
My HealtheVet badge
EBenefits Badge

Houston VA Research Looks at Reducing Anxiety and Depression in Veterans with COPD

January 7, 2003

Houston VA Research Looks at Reducing Anxiety and Depression in Veterans with COPD

Are you on the RADAR screen for anxiety or depression?

Released: 2003/01/07

read description below

Photo by Agenda Burnett, HVAMC Media Section

Sarah Liles, a research coordinator with the Houston VA Medical Center Mental Health Care Line, takes veteran Ervin Herr through a breathing test. With the goal of improving his condition, Mr. Herr is participating in the HVAMC's RADAR program which studies educational interventions of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and anxiety/depressive symptoms. Veterans, who have COPD and feel either depressed or nervous, may make an appointment to be assessed by calling the RADAR team directly at (713) 794-8692.

HOUSTON, TX - Veteran Ervin Herr has had problems with his lungs since he was a kid, but he didn't understand why. He was always short of breath, had complications with asthma, and suffered from extreme allergies to animals, especially horses.

About ten years ago, Herr had a heart attack and then a stroke. It was around this time, he realized that his anxiety brought on fear, and fear brought on doubt. Looking at Herr's condition, doctors at the Houston VA Medical Center (HVAMC) thought he was a good candidate for the RADAR Program.

Research Aimed at Depression and Anxiety Reduction (RADAR) is a program led by Mark Kunik, MD, MPH, a geropsychiatrist who has been with the HVAMC for the past nine years. Currently, in his affiliation with the VA Health Service Research Group, Dr. Kunik recently obtained a VA grant to study educational interventions of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and anxiety/depressive symptoms.

RADAR is a study to see if education classes might help veterans with these types of problems. The study is a randomized, control trial in which participating veterans were assigned to one of two eight-week education programs. Following the eight weeks, the patients are evaluated every three months to obtain assessments. Neither the health care professionals nor the patients know which group the patients are assigned to, since they are trying to determine which group is more helpful to patients that have COPD.

According to the American Lung Association, the annual cost in the U.S. for COPD is approximately $30.4 billion. This includes health care expenses of $14.7 billion, and indirect costs of $15.7 billion.

COPD includes emphysema, lung disease, chronic bronchitis, and asthma and causes irreversible lung damage. With emphysema, the walls between the air sacs within the lungs lose their ability to stretch and recoil. They become weakened and break. Elasticity of the lung tissue is lost, causing air to be trapped in the air sacs and impairing the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. A victim's airway looses its support, allowing for obstruction of airflow.

An estimated 2.8 million Americans will be diagnosed with emphysema sometime in their life. Of emphysema sufferers, 58 percent are male. While more men suffer from the disease than women, the condition is increasing among women.

Symptoms of emphysema include cough, shortness of breath, and a limited exercise tolerance. These are symptoms that Herr knows very well. He never understood why, as a kid playing sports, he couldn't keep up with the rest of the children. But he still tried. As an inpatient, he tries to get as much exercise as he can, walking around the hospital, and back to his room. However, he does concede that it is hard to exercise when you have difficulty breathing.

The HVAMC RADAR study does not interfere with the treatment of a patient's medical problems and participation in the program is free. The program is aimed at individuals who have a diagnosis of COPD, emphysema, and suffer with some type of anxiety and/or depression.

Veterans, who have COPD and feel either depressed or nervous, may make an appointment by calling the RADAR team directly at (713) 794-8692.

During the appointment, they are told more about the study, and after they sign a consent form, they are asked about their COPD and about their symptoms of sadness and/or nervousness. The patients are also asked to perform a brief breathing test (spirometry reading) and walk a short distance (if possible).

"The power in this program has brought out a lot of faith in me. Somebody who has trouble breathing, and is distressed and stressed out all the time, with this program, you can get answers, and get some relief," said Herr.

Although emphysema is a chronic condition, there are many options for the COPD patient at the HVAMC. Herr speaks with determination to cope with the breathing problems that he experiences and said, "I've got too many things to do to let this illness slow me down." It is this attitude that sustains him.

If you are interested in learning more about the study, please contact the RADAR Program at (713) 794-8692.

# # #

Point of Contact: VHAHOU Public Affairs

04/21/04 08:25