Study links asthma and mental illness

Sunday, November 30, 2003

December 1, 2003

YARMOUTH, Maine - Asthma patients should be closely monitored for anxiety and mental illnesses, experts say, following new evidence that the breathing condition is linked strongly to a range of psychological disorders.

Researchers have found that people with asthma suffer mental illness at two to four times the rate of the rest of the population, according to the first large-scale study of the long-suspected connection.

Those with continuing, severe asthma were more than twice as likely to have an anxiety disorder, and nearly five times as likely to suffer panic attacks or have a specific phobia, compared with other people of the same age.

The results were similar, although less pronounced, for those who had had severe asthma but no longer had severe symptoms. Those with milder forms of asthma, which causes breathlessness by restricting the movement of the airways in the lung, were twice as likely as others to suffer from a mood disorder.

The study also found that those who had had severe asthma were at treble the risk of social phobia - an extreme form of shyness that is a recognized psychiatric condition.

Reasons for the increase association were unclear, according to researchers.

" It might be that having asthma, which can be a long-term and potentially life-threatening condition, may increase the levels of anxiety, which in some people can lead to full-blown anxiety disorders," lead researcher Renee Goodwin wrote in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

A second theory is that possible underlying anxiety might cause people over use asthma-relieving medications, which can cause increased heart rate and physical symptoms similar to panic.