Poor Mental Health May Boost Asthma Risk

But, researchers are still trying to understand the connection

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By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Dec. 5 (HealthDay News) -- A new study suggests a link between your mental health and your respiratory health -- specifically asthma.

People who rated their mental health as poor were more likely to have asthma than those who described their mental health as good, Brown University researchers report.

If you're a person with both asthma and mental health problems, you should be treated for both conditions, said lead researcher Dr. Thomas Chun, an assistant professor of emergency medicine.

"Though we can't prove that the two are causally related, it may be important to treat both conditions. Successfully improving one condition may improve the other," Chun said.

For the study, published in the December issue of Chest, Chun's team collected data on 318,151 people who took part in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

"We found that any number of days of poor mental health was associated with currently having asthma," Chun said. "Even low levels of poor mental health were associated with an increased risk of currently having asthma."

Specifically, the researchers found that people who said their mental health was poor or fair were at 1.31 times greater risk of asthma, compared with those who rated their mental health as good, very good or excellent.

The researchers also found a "dose-response" relationship between poor mental health and asthma. "The more days of poor mental health that a person reported, the greater their risk of currently having asthma," Chun said.

"That said, it is important to note that our study does not prove that asthma causes poor mental health or vice versa," he added.

Kim Lavoie, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Quebec in Montreal, and an expert in the psychological factors involved in chronic diseases, thinks the possible connection between mental health and asthma needs to be explored further.

"In general, the results of this study are not really novel," Lavoie said. "We already know that there is a strong association between high levels of psychological distress and psychiatric disorders such as mood disorders, such as major depression and anxiety disorders and panic disorder, and both a higher prevalence of asthma and worse asthma outcomes," she said.

The real question is why, Lavoie said. "Is it because people who are more stressed out take worse care of themselves? For example, people who are depressed and/or anxious tend to smoke more, eat more, exercise less, and tend not to take their medications as prescribed," she said.

"Perhaps it is because stress is associated with a number of important physiological changes, such as autonomous nervous system changes, which may cause increased chest tightness in patients with asthma, or immune system changes, which may cause increased inflammation in the airways of asthmatics," Lavoie said.

More information

For more on asthma, visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

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