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The University of Southampton

Research project: BROCOG

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A group mindfulness intervention to help people with asthma

The focus of asthma treatment is on medication, usually with inhalers, and the response to poorly controlled asthma (PCA) is often to increase medication. However, asthma affects people in many ways, including effects on emotions, concentration and self-management behaviour. Having attacks of breathlessness can be frightening, and some may become anxious or depressed.

Significant anxiety is six times as common in people with asthma, particularly when control is poor. Those with anxiety have worse outcomes, including more attacks, symptoms and lower quality of life. Anxiety is often not talked about with doctors, so can be untreated. The Department of Health has recently made studies of psychological treatments in asthma a research priority. Notably, there is a relatively poor association between objective asthma symptoms (e.g. physiological measurement of lung function) and patients’ subjective perception of their asthma severity. However, there is a stronger relationship between patients reported anxiety and perceived severity.

Currently, there is a lot of research examining thought-processing biases in anxiety (for example, people with anxiety more quickly notice negative stimuli in the environment). However, the corresponding research has not been conducted in asthma; recently, limited evidence has observed associations between cognitive and neuro-cognitive threat-responses and asthma symptom severity, and corresponding theoretical cognitive-affective frameworks have been developed to characterize this relationship. This area of research will therefore benefit greatly from research that reconciles findings from both anxiety and asthma.

40 patients with asthma will complete computerized-cognitive and self-report measures of anxiety and attention before and after completing a bronchial hyperreactivity challenge, in a single 2-hour session. Participants will take part in a metacholine challenge, in which their breathing function is restricted to 80% of their usual volume. During this time, we will take computerized and questionnaire measures of anxiety-related functioning. We will compare these measures to scores taken during ‘no challenge’, during normal respiratory functioning (counterbalanced to be either before or after challenge).

We predict an association between subjective symptoms of asthma and anxiety-related thought processes. Specifically, we hypothesize that increased anxiety will be related to increased perception of breathlessness/asthma severity (regardless of actual measures of physiological lung function).

Associated research themes

RPNI - Respiratory PsychoNeuroImmunology

Related research groups

Centre for Clinical and Community Applications of Health Psychology (CCCAHP)
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