Comorbid asthma and anxiety
A review of the research literature suggests that anxiety is more common among patients with asthma than among the general population, yet it does not appear to be given the attention it deserves as part of the overall management of asthma. Having asthma can be a source of anxiety and stress in itself, particularly if it is not well controlled.
Recurrent episodes of having to fight for breath are frightening and upsetting. The repeated bouts of congestion, wheezing, and gasping for breath can cause anxiety, a feeling of being overwhelmed, and even a feeling of being defeated. Living with asthma symptoms can result in tremendous stress. Likewise, added stress can trigger asthma symptoms.
When stress increases, asthma patients may notice an increase in anxiety and asthma symptoms. As the symptoms such as wheezing and coughing worsen, an asthma sufferer can become more anxious, and then his/her asthma symptoms worsen. Asthma and anxiety make for a vicious cycle and one that can spiral downwards quickly.
Fewer asthma attacks will generally mean fewer anxiety attacks, and less worry overall helps reduce the instance of stress-induced asthma attacks. When asthma and anxiety are handled in combination, an asthma patient can have a much-improved quality of life
According to the results of a large study published in 2009 in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Respiratory Disease:
- A total of 51.5% of the asthma patients who participated were found to have clinically significant levels of anxiety as measured by their anxiety scores. Of these only 21% had already been diagnosed and were receiving treatment.
- There was a positive correlation between the anxiety score and the prescribed dose of inhaled glucocorticoids and a positive correlation between anxiety and the number of medicines taken by patients.
- Women in the study reported significantly higher levels of anxiety than men.
- It has been suggested that the association between asthma and anxiety may be due to the central role of respiratory factors in anxiety disorders.
- Studies related to physician–patient interaction in asthma management have shown that patients’ concerns about anxiety may not be sufficiently addressed due to lack of time and poor communication.
The side effects of some asthma drugs include anxiety and sleep disturbances. Some asthma medications can make you feel jittery. Many people with asthma who experience these feelings may not realize that they may be caused by their asthma medication.
According to the ‘British National Formulary (BNF 63)’, a publication of the British Medical Association and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, the side effects of Beta2 Agonists include (but are not limited to), fine tremor (particularly in the hands), nervous tension, and disturbances of sleep.
The side effects of theophylline include (but are not limited to) insomnia. The side effects of inhaled corticosteroids include (but are not limited to) anxiety, sleep disturbances, irritability and aggression. The side effects of leukotriene receptor antagonists include (but are not limited to) insomnia.
The Buteyko Method can not only significantly improve asthma symptoms and enable asthma sufferers to reduce their asthma medication (in consultation with their physician) but by virtue of eliciting the relaxation response it can also help in the management of anxiety and some sleep disorders (e.g. insomnia, snoring, and sleep apnoea).