Breaking the stigma of COPD

When we think about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), we typically think of difficulty breathing and potential lack of mobility. But for the 27 million Americans living with COPD, the condition encompasses so much more than just physical symptoms. With November serving as COPD Awareness Month, it’s essential to recognize the mental and emotional impacts of the disease – and how addressing these can be an integral part of treating it.

Understanding COPD and Its Causes

COPD most frequently occurs in people 40 years of age and older who have a history of smoking and may be current or former smokers. While not everyone who smokes gets COPD, most of those diagnosed with COPD have smoked.1

Because of the common association of smoking and COPD, shame often accompanies the diagnosis – with patients feeling as though the disease is something they brought upon themselves and, subsequently, settling for less-than-ideal symptom management.​ In fact, according to a survey conducted by GSK with the CHEST and COPD Foundations, 66 percent of people with COPD agreed (strongly/somewhat) that they feel guilt and blame themselves for having COPD.

How to #ShakeCOPDStigma

Justin Daniels, whose father was diagnosed with COPD in 2011, knows all too well the impact that a COPD diagnosis – and the accompanying stigma – can have on a patient. Justin has been compensated for sharing his story.

“I typically notice when my dad starts to struggle with routine activities. He’ll avoid going upstairs or getting the mail. But when we go to doctor’s appointments, my dad will downplay his symptoms, assuming that this level of symptom control is as good as it gets,” says Justin, who serves as his dad’s primary caretaker. “I have to remind him that he does not need to struggle with COPD alone, and that just because he smoked, it doesn’t mean he can’t advocate for more from his treatment plan.”

According to a survey conducted with the CHEST Foundation and COPD Foundation, 46 percent of people with COPD have resigned to the belief that disruptive symptoms are a normal part of their disease and that nothing can be done, and only 30 percent of those surveyed had asked their doctors to reevaluate their treatment plan. Having these conversations with healthcare providers is critically important to ensuring COPD is well-managed – and it starts with reminding patients that they did not bring the disease on themselves.

“With the diagnosis of COPD many people feel shame or guilt, and I want to help others shake the COPD stigma,” says Justin. “I want to see people getting out of their comfort zone and talking to their doctors, as well as being able to get around to do things they enjoy like going to restaurants and spending time with their family (while being COVID safe, of course).”

If you or someone you love is living with COPD, there are steps to take that can help reduce the impact of stigma, including:

  • Finding support. Staying connected to others can help reduce feelings of isolation and serve as a way to exchange resources. Organizations such as the COPD Foundation provide virtual and in-person opportunities to connect with others who may have shared experiences.
  • Speaking out. Educating others around you about the difficulties and realities of COPD can help dispel stigma-fueling misconceptions and raise awareness of the disease.
  • Remember that you are not alone.

This COPD Awareness Month, we are committed to empowering patients to #ShakeCOPDStigma. Those living with COPD are deserving of well-controlled symptoms and a treatment plan that helps them live their lives to the fullest.

GSK’s Commitment to Treating COPD

Patient-centered innovation is at the heart of what we do. Our ambition to deliver best-in-class treatments has never been greater, and we will not stop until we can get ahead of disease together and ensure treatment options are available to those who need them most.

To learn more about COPD, visit



  1. COPD Foundation. What is COPD? COPD Foundation. Accessed September 30, 2021.