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Asthma and Depression

Coping With the Challenges of a Chronic Illness

By Carol Sorgen

Updated February 22, 2008

(LifeWire) - Depression is a common complication of chronic illnesses, and estimates indicate that up to one-third of patients with a serious medical condition also experience depression. That's as true for people with asthma as for those with other chronic conditions.

About 20% of people who suffer from asthma also suffer from depression. Asthmatics who either don't receive care or receive inadequate care for their asthma symptoms are more likely to experience depression as a result of the day-to-day limitations that may result from uncontrolled asthma.

What are the Signs of Depression and How is it Related to Asthma?

Signs of depression include:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Pain
  • Irritability
  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as sleeping too much or too little
  • Changes in appetite
  • Loss of interest in or lack of ability to perform daily activities
  • Feelings of hopelessness and pessimism
  • Difficulty concentrating

These changes can cause problems with daily routines and difficulty in caring for oneself. When depressed, asthma patients are less likely to follow their prescribed medication and self-care program. In turn, this neglect can cause asthma symptoms to worsen, which causes depression to worsen, creating a vicious cycle.

Children who have asthma are as prone to depression as adults. Missing school, being unable to play with other children, and having to go to the emergency room for an asthma attack can cause a child to feel helpless.

Researchers have also found that people with asthma often have poor self-esteem, blaming themselves for their asthma attacks. This can result in never trying to get better, which can affect your ability to control your asthma and leads to depression.

How is Depression Treated?

Many medications are available that can effectively treat depression. Research has shown that a combination of medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy (i.e, talk therapy) works best to combat depression. Antidepressants usually begin to work within several weeks. Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on changing a person's thoughts and behaviors.

Support groups also may be helpful for people suffering from asthma. In a support group, patients can share their experiences – both with asthma and depression – and also learn effective coping skills, such as relaxation techniques, positive affirmations and assertiveness.

Asthma management programs also focus on behavior, which can improve both your physical and emotional health. These programs can make a big difference in your life. With the proper use of prescribed medications and lifestyle changes, asthma can be well controlled and you can lead a normal life with few, if any, restrictions.

What are Some More Ways to Cope With Depression for People With Asthma?

  • Stay connected. The support of family and friends is important in coping with a chronic illness such as asthma, as well as coping with depression. Family and friends can provide emotional support, encourage activity and independence, assist with household chores and other errands if necessary, and encourage a treatment plan. People without a strong social network should start building one.

  • Remain active. Continue to pursue longstanding activities, hobbies and interests, or take time to delve into new ones.

  • Be informed. Learn as much as possible about both asthma and depression. Knowledge can impart a sense of self-control and also ensure the best treatment possible. Ask a doctor for referrals to community resources.

  • Build a strong healthcare team. Patients should have doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals whom they trust and with whom they feel comfortable speaking.

  • Check medications. Some bronchodilators can actually cause depression, and if this is suspected, then a physician should be consulted about alternatives.
  • Explore complementary therapies. Alternative or complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, yoga and guided imagery, are frequently helpful in promoting a sense of well-being.

  • Don't wait to ask for assistance. People who are depressed should seek help quickly to regain their psychological health.

Learn More About Aspects of Asthma & Depression


"The Link Between Asthma and Depression." Asthma Insights & Outcomes. (2004)9: 2. American Healthways, Inc. 5 Nov. 2007 . Tousman, Stuart. "Asthma and Depression." aaaai.org. Allergy and Asthma Advocate. Winter 2003. American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI). 5 Nov. 2007.

Kessler RC, McGonagle KA, Zhao S, Nelson CB, Hughes M, Eshleman S, Wittchen HU, Kendler KS. Lifetime and 12-month prevalence of DSM-III-R psychiatric disorders in the United States. Results from the National Comorbidity Survey. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1994;51:8–19.

Gillaspy SR, Hoff AL, Mullins LL, Van Pelt JC, Chaney JM. Psychological distress in high-risk youth with asthma. J Pediatr Psychol. 2002;27:363–371.

Mrazek DA. Psychiatric complications of pediatric asthma. Ann Allergy. 1992;69:285–290. 4. Fitzpatrick MF, Engleman H, Whyte KF, Deary IJ, Shapiro CM, Douglas NJ. Morbidity in nocturnal asthma: sleep quality and daytime cognitive performance. Thorax. 1991;46:569–573.

Leigh D, Marley E. A psychiatric assessment of adult asthmatics: a statistical study. J Psychosom Res. 1956;1:128–136.

Vila G, Nollet-Clemencon C, de Blic J, Mouren-Simeoni MC, Scheinmann P. Prevalence of DSM IV anxiety and affective disorders in a pediatric population of asthmatic children and adolescents. J Affect Disord. 2000;58:223–231.

Janson C, Bjornsson E, Hetta J, Boman G. Anxiety and depression in relation to respiratory symptoms and asthma. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 1994;149:930–934.

Rimington LD, Davies DH, Lowe D, Pearson MG. Relationship between anxiety, depression and morbidity in adult asthma patients. Thorax2001, 56(4):266-271.

LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Carol Sorgen is a freelance writer in Baltimore, Md., who writes frequently on health and wellness issues for such publications as WebMD, Today's Diet & Nutrition, The Washington Post, and the Baltimore Sun.
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