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Asthma Health Center

Asthma and Depression

People with asthma have twice the risk of developing mood and anxiety disorders.
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Asthma, a chronic disease of the airways, affects more than 22 million people in the U.S.

Most people with asthma have symptoms such as cough and wheezing. But did you know that people with asthma have twice the risk of developing mood and anxiety disorders, including depression?

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Depression, with its feelings of sadness and helplessness, is the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorder. In the U.S., depression is widespread among men (12.7%) and women (21.3%).

Many people with chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes suffer with depression. Yet with poorly managed asthma, the inability to breathe is stressful. This emotional stress can add to depressive feelings and can worsen asthma symptoms.

Understanding the Link Between Asthma and Depression

University of Wisconsin brain imaging and behavior researcher Melissa A. Rosenkranz, PhD, explains that the exact causes of depression in asthma are unknown, but inflammation may hold answers.

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease. Rosenkranz tells WebMD that when the presence of inflammation in the body is communicated to the brain, neural (brain) changes take place.

The neural changes can modify behaviors that resemble those seen in depression, says Rosenkranz. Symptoms may include depressed mood, lethargy, decreased appetite, and decreased interest in social interaction.  

Rosenkranz’s study, published in the journal Neuroimage, analyzes clues that may link depression and asthma. Her findings show that as depressive symptoms improve, so does the asthma.  In fact, a reduction in depressive symptoms is linked to a decreased use of asthma medications.

Poorly managed asthma keeps people from being active.  When inactivity combines with difficulty breathing, it triggers a downward spiral that includes:

•         Social isolation

•         Increased feelings of depression

•         Poor asthma management

•         Worsening of asthma symptoms

Depression with asthma is also a side effect of steroid use. This includes anti-inflammatory inhalers and oral steroids commonly used to treat asthma.

Findings show that other nonsteroid asthma drugs may cause irritability, depression, and even suicidal ideation or completion.

Treating Asthma and Boosting Mood

If you or a loved one has asthma, there are nine proactive steps you can take to optimize breathing and protect your mental health:

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