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Asthma Treatment: Mind

Asthma and Depression

The medical community is uncertain as to the mind-body connection between asthma, anxiety and depression. Both anxiety and depression alter the body's healthy balance of hormones and brain chemistry, and this alteration may somehow set the stage for disease. Once a person has been diagnosed with asthma, feelings of sadness or worry can cause subtle physiological changes that may play a role in further asthma attacks.

Researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo tested this theory by showing the movie ET: The Extraterrestrial to a group of children with asthma. During the sad parts, the children's heart rates and blood oxygen levels became erratic. Such physiological changes may leave the asthmatic vulnerable to further adverse physiological changes that could lead to the symptoms of asthma.

Depression can also contribute to a higher incidence of asthma symptoms by suppressing the immune system. People suffering from depression report more frequent viral and respiratory infections. Once such an infection takes hold, it can inflame the airways and trigger an asthma attack.

Asthma patients who feel depressed might not monitor their breathing and take medications as promptly as when they feel normal and emotionally healthy. Treatment aimed at resolving depression and anxiety may improve the effectiveness of preventative asthma medicines and decrease the occurrence of asthma attacks.

Asthma and Mood, Anxiety and Depression

If you have been diagnosed with asthma, a bout of depression or anxiety can trigger asthma attacks and require more medical intervention in order to manage, according to recent medical research. Studies have found that asthmatic children suffering from psychological distress need higher doses of medication and spend more time in the hospital than emotionally settled children with asthma. It has become routine for some health care providers to inquire of their patients seeking medications for exacerbations of their asthma symptoms to ask them questions such as “What has gone wrong in your life lately?” and “Are you feeling upset or depressed recently?”

In 1999, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study that, for the first time, provided strong evidence that depression and anxiety can actually help cause the respiratory disease. Investigators gave psychological tests to more than 5,000 asthma-free people aged 25 to 74 and then checked their health records 13 years later. After adjusting for age, sex, race, and other factors, the researchers found that severe depression and anxiety more than doubled a nonsmoker's risk of developing asthma.


  1. Chris Woolston, M.S. 2009. Asthma: the Mind-Body Connection. (Online) accessed 02.01.10

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