Suffering a trauma such as 9/11, assault, war, etc. can be extremely stressful and for weeks, months and sometimes even years afterwards, some people who have weathered such a trauma may have trouble coping, dealing with nightmares, panic attacks and so forth. This is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD for short. Surviving PTSD often requires a combination of time, therapy and medication, but people do get better.
Now a new study has evaluated whether there is any link between asthma and PTSD and the results suggest that there is. What experts do not fully understand is why or whether asthma increases the risk that someone who experiences a traumatic event will have PTSD or if people who have PTSD are just at greater risk for asthma.
However, it’s important to note that similar links have been noted in the past between asthma and anxiety and asthma and depression. So, apparently there is some kind of association between asthma and mental disorders that needs to be studied more for clarity.
Here are the highlights of this recent study on PTSD and asthma:
- 3065 male twin pairs who had both served in the Vietnam War were subjects
- Twins had all lived together during childhood
- Both identical and fraternal twins were included, with similar findings, so genetic influences for the results were ruled out
- Factors such as cigarette smoking, obesity and socioeconomic status had no appreciable effect on the findings
As a result of the study, researchers concluded that there is a definite link between asthma and PTSD. Specifically, those twins who suffered from the most PTSD symptoms were 2.3 times as likely to have asthma compared with those who suffered from the least PTSD symptoms.
As stated above, the experts are not sure if traumatic stress, which has previously been linked to altered immune functioning, might lead to an increased susceptibility to immune system diseases such as asthma. Or, it might be that having asthma puts one at increased risk for exposure to a traumatic situation, due to the potentially life-threatening nature of the disease.
That last point seems a bit of a stretch to me, but further studies should provide greater illumination as to the true nature of this link between PTSD and asthma. At any rate, the researchers encourage anyone who has asthma that suffers a trauma to seek professional help to ward off or at least cope with PTSD.
Kathi is an experienced consumer health education writer, with a prior career in nursing that spanned more than 30 years — much of it in the field of home health care. Over the past 15 years, she’s been an avid contributor for a number of consumer health websites, specializing in asthma, allergy, and COPD. She writes not only as a healthcare professional, but also as a lifelong sufferer of severe allergies and mild asthma, and as a caregiver for her mother with COPD.