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Mental Distress Linked with Asthma Flares

Mon Dec 13, 2004

By Anthony J. Brown, MD

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Frequent mental distress is relatively common among adults with asthma and is associated with unhealthy behaviors that raise the risk of disease flare-ups, a new study has found. This suggests that doctors who treat asthma patients should not overlook their mental health status.

Previous reports have shown a strong association between depressive disorders and asthma, according to the report in the medical journal Chest. However, the link between depressive symptoms and asthma-related risk behaviors in adult asthmatics has not been studied.

To investigate, Tara W. Strine and colleagues, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, analyzed data from a survey involving non-institutionalized adults living in the US. Data from 15,080 adults with asthma were included in the analysis.

Nearly 19 percent of adults with asthma had frequent mental distress, defined as at least 14 of the last 30 days in which the subjects reported their mental health was not good. In contrast, in a separate analysis, the prevalence of frequent mental distress among subjects without asthma was just 9.3 percent.

In the study group, the presence of frequent mental distress increased the odds of smoking and physical inactivity by 90 percent and 70 percent, respectively. Moreover, subjects with frequent mental distress were more likely to report fair/poor general health, frequent physical distress, frequent activity limitations, frequent anxiety, and frequent sleepiness than their peers without frequent mental distress.

"I think there is an interplay between physical and mental health that is often overlooked by healthcare providers," Strine told Reuters Health. "The paper clearly shows that there is a twofold increase in frequent mental distress between subjects with and without current asthma. So, I think it makes that point fairly eloquently."

Strine noted that there are some useful mental health questionnaires that patients can complete while waiting to see the doctor. If these screening tests "come up positive for depressive symptoms, the clinician might want to consider referring the patient to a mental health professional."

SOURCE: Chest, December 2004.

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