"When I am breathless now, I don't have the fear that's linked to it": a case series on the potential of EMDR to break the dyspnea-anxiety cycle in COPD

Kris Mooren*, Kirsten Smit, Yvonne Engels, Daisy Janssen, Judith Godschalx

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Expectations can enhance the intensity and the neural processing of breathlessness. Previous breathlessness episodes may influence the perception of subsequent episodes because of psycho-traumatic consequences. In post-traumatic stress disorder, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is the therapy of choice.

AIMS AND OBJECTIVES: We explored the hypothesis that EMDR in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and previous severe breathlessness episodes, improves breathlessness mastery by decreasing the anxiety component.

METHODS: As we found no literature on previous research on this subject, we undertook a qualitative case series on four patients with COPD GOLD 4/D and refractory breathlessness who wished to undergo EMDR for psychotraumatic breathlessness episodes. Amongst others, we used the Chronic Respiratory Disease Questionnaire (CRQ) before and after EMDR, and semi-structured, face-to-face, in-depth interviews.

RESULTS: All patients had between three and five EMDR sessions. On CRQ, subset mastery, three patients had a large improvement and one patient a moderate improvement. On subset emotional functioning, three patients showed a large improvement and one showed no change. All patients made a distinction between 'regular' breathlessness and breathlessness intertwined with anxiety. They all stated that the anxiety component of their breathlessness diminished or disappeared. All four would recommend EMDR for other COPD patients.

CONCLUSION: There is ground for a randomized controlled clinical trial to test the effects of EMDR on breathlessness mastery in a subset of COPD patients with previous severe breathlessness episodes and high levels of anxiety.

Original languageEnglish
Article number456
Number of pages8
JournalBMC Pulmonary Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022


  • Humans
  • Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing
  • Anxiety/etiology
  • Dyspnea/etiology
  • Fear
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive/complications

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