Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Asthma may increase risk of anxiety and depression

In Brief

Asthma may increase risk of anxiety and depression

Children and adolescents with asthma are nearly twice as likely to suffer from anxiety and depressive disorders as their peers without asthma, according to a study published in November 2007. The findings add to a growing body of literature that suggests a relationship between asthma and psychiatric disorders.

Researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine evaluated telephone interviews with 781 youths ages 11 to 17 who were diagnosed with asthma and receiving care at a health maintenance organization (HMO). Interview data were also obtained from 598 other young people enrolled in the HMO, randomly selected but similar in age to those diagnosed with asthma. The researchers used standard instruments to assess how many of the young people had anxiety or depressive disorders that met criteria published in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). They found that 16.3% of the young people with asthma met DSM-IV criteria for one or more anxiety or depressive disorders in the previous 12 months, compared with 8.6% of those without asthma.

The researchers documented an increased prevalence of major depression, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, separation anxiety, and agoraphobia in the children and adolescents with asthma — although only the increase in agoraphobia was considered statistically significant. (The other findings are classified as trends, so the data are suggestive, not conclusive.) Even so, the researchers note that their study confirms the findings of three previous epidemiological studies and one community survey that children and adults with asthma had increased rates of anxiety and depression.

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