Stress quadruples the risk of an asthma attack in children

Stress quadruples the risk of an asthma attack in children, and gives them a double bout of acute symptoms within 48 hours and around six weeks later, finds a small study in Thorax.

Sixty children, aged between 6 and 13, who had had asthma for at least three years, were asked to keep daily diaries in which they recorded acute bouts of asthma and their breath strength (peak flow).

Their symptoms were scored on a recognised scale, based on the treatment scale defined by the British Thoracic Society. They also went for clinic check-ups every three months.

The children kept the diaries for 18 months, and they and their parents were also regularly interviewed about stressful life events, which were scored, using a validated scale.

The main stressful negative life events involved house moves, births, deaths, and departures, illness/visits to hospital (excluding the child's asthma), separations, and changes in family relationships.

During the study period, 361 episodes of rapidly worsening asthma symptoms were recorded. The number of negative life events totalled 124.

When all the information was analysed, the researchers found that children were over four times as likely to sustain a sudden worsening of symptoms within one to two days of experiencing a stressful life event.

And after a period of stabilisation, the risk of symptoms suddenly worsening again doubled around five to seven weeks later.

The authors suggest that the immediate and delayed effects are likely to be caused by different physiological and immune processes involving the autonomic nervous system as well as hormone and brain chemical regulation.

Contact:
Dr Seija Sandberg, Department of Mental Health Sciences, University College London, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 8509 0424; +44 (0)20 7237 6600; +44 (0)7711 344 717.
Email: [email protected]

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