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Link Between Depression and Asthma

Depression and asthma can often go hand in hand, to the detriment of the patient suffering from both. In young people with asthma, they have nearly twice the incidence of depression as compared to their peers without asthma. Studies into the area have found that depression is associated with increased asthma symptoms. In some cases, it even results in death.

Science Daily recently reported on a new study from researchers at the University of Buffalo found that depressed children with asthma exhibit a dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system along with increased airway compromise. This could possibly be the first study to examine pathways linking emotional stress, depressive symptoms, autonomic nervous system dysregulation and airway function in young asthma patients.

The study was designed and carried out by 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, 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.”

According to Miller, the depressed group consistently demonstrated greater parasympathetic activation in addition to decreased sympathetic activation in response to emotional provocations. This patter would have a detrimental effect on the individual’s airways. The group without symptoms of depression showed consistent activation of the sympathetic pathway. This consistency would support better airway function under stress.

Study authors suggest that these findings support the argument for the importance of screening children with asthma for depressive symptoms. They also suggest that these children be followed closely over time and be referred for psychological counseling when indicated.

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