Research Finds Link Between Asthma and Depressive Disorders in Children

Young people with asthma are twice as likely to suffer from depressive and anxiety disorders as children without asthma, according to a new study by a Seattle research team including physicians from Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute.


Young people with asthma are twice as likely to suffer from depressive and anxiety disorders as children without asthma, according to a new study by a Seattle research team including physicians from Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute. Previous research had suggested a possible link in young people between asthma and some mental health problems such as panic disorder, but this study is the first showing such a strong connection between the respiratory condition and depressive and anxiety disorders. These findings are published in the November 2007 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The study was conducted by researchers at Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute (Children’s), the University of Washington School of Medicine (UWSOM), and Group Health Cooperative. Researchers interviewed more than 1,300 youths ages 11 to 17, who were enrolled in the Group Health Cooperative health maintenance organization. Of the participants, 781 had been diagnosed with or treated for asthma, and the rest were randomly selected with no asthma history.

Researchers found about 16 percent of the young people with asthma had depressive or anxiety disorders, compared to only 9 percent of youth without asthma. When controlling for other possible variables, youth with asthma were about 1.9 times as likely to have such depressive or anxiety disorders.

Researchers tested for several depressive and anxiety disorders including depression, a mood disorder called dysthymia, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, separation anxiety, social phobia and agoraphobia. These disorders are somewhat common in youth, and are associated with high risk for school problems, early pregnancy, adverse health behaviors like smoking or lack of exercise, and suicide.

Young people with depressive and anxiety disorders often find it harder to manage their asthma and describe more impaired physical functioning because of the combination of asthma and a depressive or anxiety disorder, researchers found. Youth with asthma and one of the disorders are also more likely to smoke, making their asthma more difficult to treat.

“Physicians treating young people with asthma should realize that those children are at greater risk for depressive and anxiety disorders, and should try to educate patients and their families about this increased risk,” said Dr. Wayne Katon, professor and vice-chair of psychiatry at UWSOM, and lead author of the study. “The primary care system is correctly identifying only about 40 percent of the cases in which children with asthma also have a psychiatric disorder. We should improve our screening for these disorders, and develop effective treatment programs for affected patients that address both asthma and the depressive or anxiety disorder.”

In addition to exploring the link between asthma and depressive and anxiety disorders, researchers found other variables that further increase the risk of such disorders. Female respondents were at greater risk for depressive and anxiety disorders, as were youth living in a single-parent household, those who had been diagnosed with asthma more recently, and those with more asthma-related impairment.

The research team also included Dr. Paula Lozano of UWSOM, Group Health Cooperative, and Children’s; Dr. Joan Russo of UWSOM; Dr. Elizabeth McCauley of UWSOM and Children’s; Dr. Laura Richardson of UWSOM and Children’s; and Dr. Terry Bush of Group Health Cooperative.

About Seattle Children’s Research Institute

Located in downtown Seattle’s biotech corridor, Seattle Children’s Research Institute is pushing the boundaries of medical research to find cures for pediatric diseases and improve outcomes for children all over the world. Internationally recognized investigators and staff at the research institute are advancing new discoveries in cancer, genetics, immunology, pathology, infectious disease, injury prevention and bioethics, among others. As part of Seattle Children’s Hospital, the research institute brings together leading minds in pediatric research to provide patients with the best care possible. Seattle Children’s serves as the primary teaching, clinical and research site for the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine, which consistently ranks as one of the best pediatric departments in the country. For more information, visit http://www.seattlechildrens.org/research.