Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Asthma LinkedNov 29, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is associated with an elevated prevalence of asthma, says a new study in The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. The link between PTSD and asthma existed even after adjusting for factors such as cigarette smoking, obesity, and socioeconomic placement. Researchers state that efforts to understand this co-morbidity may help in identifying modifiable environmental risk factors and in developing more effective prevention and intervention protocols for the future.
The study involved 3,065 male twin pairs-both identical and fraternal-who lived together in childhood and had both served on active military duty during the Vietnam War. Both identical and fraternal twins were included, with similar findings, so genetic influences for the results were ruled out. Also, factors such as cigarette smoking, obesity and socioeconomic status had no appreciable effect on the findings
While the new study suggests there is a link between asthma and PTSD, experts do not fully understand 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. Similar links have been previously noted between asthma and anxiety and asthma and depression, further confirming that there is an association between asthma and mental disorders. Previous studies indicated a more general link between anxiety disorders and asthma, but this study focused specifically on PTSD. The study also confirmed that those who suffered the most from PTSD were more than twice as likely to have asthma. Researchers are not sure what mechanisms are behind the association and there is speculation that a traumatic stressor could trigger both PTSD and asthma. Perhaps one condition could contribute to the other; perhaps this is a cause-and-effect relationship.
The findings suggest that a person with asthma who experiences a traumatic event may benefit from seeking professional help because they could be at increased risk of developing PTSD. The link between PTSD and asthma does not appear to be primarily due to a common genetic predisposition. Had there been a strong genetic component to the link, the results between the two types of twins would have been different.
Suffering a trauma such as the September 11th terror attacks, assault, or war can be extremely stressful for weeks, months, and even years afterwards. Survivors may have trouble coping with everyday life and/or suffering with nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive memories, exaggerated emotional and physical reactions, panic attacks that are linked to triggering events. Re-experiencing the trauma through these reactions reminds the survivor of the trauma and can lead to sleeplessness, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, emotional numbing, hyper-vigilance; an array of worrisome or dangerous responses. Surviving PTSD often requires a committed and long-term combination of time, therapy, and medication.
PTSD is a medically recognized disorder that occurs in normal individuals under extremely stressful conditions. Symptoms affect people from all walks of life, including soldiers, victims of natural disasters, or serious accidents and can affect people who provide emergency services for others, such as the emergency workers deployed to Ground Zero following the September 11th terrorist attacks.