Category: Health Psychology / Behavioral Medicine - Adult
Asthma is a chronic obstructive lung disease that affects 1 in 12 adults in the United States (CDC, 2012). Asthma is associated with significant rates of morbidity and mortality, resulting approximately $56 billion in annual healthcare costs (CDC, 2015). One contributing factor to these healthcare costs among individuals with asthma is comorbid anxiety psychopathology, which is associated with poorer asthma control and quality of life, greater functional impairment, increased use of rescue medications, and more frequent hospitalizations (Dirks et al., 1980; Feldman et al., 2005; Lavoie et al., 2005; Ritz et al., 2008). However, research has primarily focused on general anxiety and panic disorder (Feldman et al., 2005; Fernandes et al., 2010), and no research, to date has examined the relationship between health anxiety and asthma-related outcomes. Health anxiety is defined as an excessive preoccupation with one’s health involving health-related worry, vigilance towards body sensations and changes, and reassurance-seeking aimed at reducing distress (Abramowitz et al., 2002). Theoretically, health anxiety may lead individuals to perceive their asthma as more severe than it objectively is, contribute to increased distress in response to their asthma symptoms, resulting in decreased quality of life. Therefore, the aim of the current study was to examine the role of health anxiety in terms of perceived asthma control, asthma-related quality of life, and objective lung functioning among adults with asthma (n = 61; 62.3% female, Mage = 34.72, SD = 13.58, 54.1% African American). Partially consistent with hypotheses, after controlling for the effects of age, lung function, anxiety, and depression, higher levels of health anxiety significantly predicted poorer perceived asthma control (b = -.32, p < .05; 6.5% variance) and asthma-related quality of life (b = -.47, p < .01; 12.8% variance). However, health anxiety was not predictive of actual lung functioning when controlling for age, anxiety, and depression. These results suggest that health anxiety is associated with a tendency to catastrophize about the severity of asthma symptoms regardless of objective lung function, resulting in poorer quality of life. Thus, interventions targeting health anxiety may help improve perceptions of asthma control and quality of life.