Many who suffer from both asthma and anxiety can attest to the connection; in some cases, sufferers may find it difficult to tell one from the other. About 34% of people with asthma also have an anxiety disorder. Both can make the lungs feel heavy, but the two together can be an even more difficult challenge.
According to a study published in Cognitive Therapy and Research, about 34% of all asthmatics also suffer from an anxiety disorder. Asthma affects about 20 million people in the United States, causing airway constriction and increased mucus production, which can make it difficult to breathe. Attacks can be terrifying, especially in poorly controlled cases, which do occasionally turn deadly.
Just the knowledge of this may even turn an asthma attack into an anxiety trigger. Studies have shown distressing thoughts can complicate asthma attacks, increasing hyperventilation and worsening outcomes. Confusion over symptom overlap may even create feedback cycles that perpetuate attacks.
But that’s not all. Research has determined that emotional distress, like what someone might experience during an anxiety attack, can trigger asthma in up to 40% of sufferers. This means anxiety can exacerbate asthma just as easily as asthma can trigger anxiety. Some sufferers may find it unclear which condition is at fault when hyperventilation and chest tightness strike, making it difficult to determine whether to treat their lungs or their anxiety.
Just as anxiety can worsen some cases of asthma, mindfulness techniques may help improve overall outcomes in asthma by reducing that anxiety. Asthma sufferers who practice mindfulness skills report reduced sensitivity to their anxiety and a better quality of life. Mindfulness cannot overcome asthma in itself, but it may reduce the intensity and availability of emotional triggers thereby reducing the severity of some attacks or eliminating some attacks through anxiety control.
A study published in the American College of Pharmacology showed antidepressant therapy helped some asthma patients better control their symptoms. This supports the idea that reining in anxiety and depression can reduce asthma severity in at least some cases. More research is needed in this area, but it offers real promise for asthma patients who suffer from emotional triggers.
Asthma and anxiety may go hand in hand for some people, but sufferers have options. Individuals should be aware of their personal triggers and how their overlapping conditions affect one another. If anxiety is one of them, taking charge with a combination of mindfulness and medication may go a long way to reducing the impact of the other.
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