Interventions to address problems with sexual function in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a general term referring to chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or both. People with COPD are thought to be at greater risk of having problems with sexual function than other people their age. These problems can include difficulties getting or maintaining an erection (for men), reduced sexual desire, difficulty achieving orgasm, discomfort during sex, anxiety about performance, or sex not being pleasurable. The aim of this review was to summarise studies that investigated the effects of drugs, physical aids, psychological interventions such as counselling, or educational interventions in order to improve the sexual function or sexual satisfaction of people with COPD and their partners.


We found two studies published before December 2014 involving a total of 48 people with COPD (men only) who received a medical intervention for problems with sexual function. These medical interventions included testosterone therapy and oxygen therapy. One of these studies provided low-quality evidence that testosterone injections help some men with COPD improve their ability to get and maintain an erection. However, there was not enough information to evaluate whether testosterone therapy improved overall sexual satisfaction or resulted in other health problems, or whether oxygen therapy improved erectile dysfunction for men with COPD.


Currently health professionals need to rely on research involving people without COPD and on expert opinion when making decisions about how best to advise people with COPD regarding problems with sexual function or sexual satisfaction. Considerably more research needs to be conducted in this area of clinical practice.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is currently insufficient evidence from clinical trials at present to inform the best way of providing interventions to improve sexual function and sexual satisfaction for people with COPD and their partners. Consequently, clinicians need to rely on clinical trials involving people without COPD and expert opinion in order to guide clinical practice in this area. Considerably more trials need to be conducted in this area of clinical practice.

Read the full abstract...

People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are believed be at higher risk of problems with sexual function than age-matched peers. Problems with sexuality or sexual function associated with COPD may arise as a results of hormonal, physiological, or psychological problems, or as a result of changes in intimate relationships arising from the chronic nature of the condition.


To evaluate the effectiveness of interventions for sexual dysfunction in people with COPD.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Airways Group's Specialised Register on 8 July 2015 and conducted supplementary searches of the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, EMBASE, four other databases, and two trials registers to July 2015, together with reference checking, citation searching, and contact with study authors to identify additional studies. We used no language or date restrictions.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs), cluster RCTs, and quasi-RCTs evaluating the effects of pharmacological, mechanical, psychological, or educational interventions to address problems with sexual well-being in people with COPD and their partners.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently reviewed search results against predetermined inclusion criteria. Two review authors independently extracted data and assessed risk of bias for included studies. We contacted study authors for additional information.

Main results: 

We included two studies involving a total of 48 participants. One of these studies (an RCT) investigated the effect of a pharmacological intervention (testosterone therapy) compared to a placebo over a four-month period. The other study (a quasi-RCT) compared one month of long-term oxygen therapy to a single 24-hour dose of oxygen therapy over a one-month period. Both studies only included men with moderate to very severe COPD (mean FEV1% across both studies 41%; standard deviation (SD) 11.7%) who were under the age of 74 (mean age across both studies 65 years; SD 7.1). We found low-quality evidence that testosterone therapy for men with COPD results in improvements in erectile function, but no evidence of effect regarding overall satisfaction with sexual function. There is insufficient data to draw conclusions regarding the possibility of adverse events arising from testosterone therapy for COPD or the effect of oxygen therapy on erectile dysfunction. Neither study provided additional data on sexual function, other than erectile function.