Stress and Depression Worsen Childhood Asthma

Jul 10, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Young people with asthma have nearly twice the incidence of depression compared to their peers without asthma, and studies have shown that depression is associated with increased asthma symptoms and, in some cases, death.

How stress and depression play upon one another to worsen asthma is a lingering question.

A new study by researchers at the University at Buffalo has shown that depressed with asthma exhibit a dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system along with increased airway compromise.

It is thought to be the first study to examine pathways linking emotional stress, depressive symptoms, autonomic nervous system dysregulation and airway function in childhood asthma.

The study appears in the July 2009 issue of The .

Bruce D. Miller, M.D., and Beatrice L. Wood, Ph.D., professors of psychiatry and pediatrics in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, designed and carried out the study in collaboration with other UB researchers.

"The autonomic nervous system, or ANS, is composed of two opposing divisions -- the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves, which check one another and thus control critical body functions outside of conscious awareness," explained Miller, chief of the UB Division of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and senior staff psychiatrist at Women & Children's Hospital of Buffalo, a UB-affiliated teaching hospital. "The ANS is influenced by stress and emotions."

"Children with asthma and high depression symptoms showed a preponderance of parasympathetic over sympathetic reactivity in the ANS," he continued. "This imbalance within the ANS could explain the increased airway resistance that we found in depressed asthmatic children in our study."

The study involved 90 children with asthma, aged 7-17. Forty-five asthmatic children with symptoms of depression were compared with 45 asthmatic children without symptoms of depression. Both groups viewed scary, sad (death) and happy scenes from the movie E.T.: The Extraterrestrial.

All children wore electrodes to collect data on heart and respiratory function, which showed the level of activation and reactivity of the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions. The researchers assessed airway function before the movie, after the death scene and after the movie.

"The depressed group consistently showed greater parasympathetic activation along with decreased sympathetic activation in response to the emotional provocations - a pattern that would have a detrimental effect on the airways," said Miller.

"In contrast, the group without symptoms of depression showed consistent activation of the sympathetic pathway, which would support better airway function under stress. To our knowledge, this is the first report in the literature to demonstrate an association linking stress, depression and increased airway resistance in asthmatic children."

Results also showed that bias toward parasympathetic reactivity was most pronounced in the children during scenes portraying family distress or loss, death and dying.

"These findings reinforce previous results from our laboratory that associated relational stress within the family with child depression and increased asthma activity," said Wood.

"Although these findings are promising and support our hypotheses," she continued, "we need further studies to replicate and extend these findings, and to examine whether treatment for reduces shift to the parasympathetic and improves lung function in children with asthma."

The authors believe these findings indicate the importance of screening children with asthma for depressive symptoms, of following these children closely and referring them for psychosocial counseling when indicated.

Co-authors on the study were Mark Ballow, M.D., an specialist from the UB Department of Pediatrics; ChiunYu Hsu, a student in the UB Neuroscience Graduate Program, and JungHa Lim, Ph.D, formerly a UB post-doctoral student, and currently on the faculty at Korea University.

The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health.

Provided by University at Buffalo (news : web)

Explore further: Syria hit by flesh-eating maggot disease

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Asthma risk increases in children treated for HIV

Jul 01, 2008

Children whose immune systems rebound after treatment with potent anti-viral drugs for HIV infection face an increased risk of developing asthma, said a federally funded consortium of researchers led by those from Baylor ...

Children's asthma affected by parental expectations

Oct 06, 2008

Asthmatic children whose parents have high expectations for their ability to function normally are less likely to have symptoms than other children dealing with the condition, according to a new study. Children also are more ...

Wheezing and asthma in young children

Oct 07, 2008

The diagnosis of asthma in a young child may well be more challenging to pediatricians than previously appreciated, according to a review of research and clinical experience literature by Howard Eigen, M.D., of the Indiana ...

Heavy traffic makes breathing a burden in children

Dec 14, 2007

Exposure to traffic pollution may increase respiratory problems and reduce lung volumes in children with asthma, according to researchers who studied the effects of road and traffic density on children’s lung function and ...

Depressed caregivers hostile, not warm, to children

Mar 19, 2008

A new study in the journal Family Process reveals that caregivers with moderate to severe depressive symptoms showed greater hostility and less warmth. The study focused on caregivers of low-income children with persistent asthma ...

Recommended for you

Syria hit by flesh-eating maggot disease

12 hours ago

Three cases of myiasis have been reported near Damascus, marking the first appearance of the flesh-eating maggot disease in Syria, UN health experts said Friday.

Sperm can carry Ebola for 82 days: WHO

13 hours ago

Sperm can carry the Ebola virus for at least 82 days, the World Health Organization said Friday, urging men recovering from the disease to use condoms for three months after the onset of symptoms.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.