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Monday, October 31, 2011

A psychological construct that influences clinical findings in asthma

It’s well known that psychosocial mechanisms and socioeconomic factors modify disease presentation. In this month’s issue, Chen et al. (J Allergy Clin Immunol 2011;128:970-976) report interesting findings on just such effects in low socioeconomic status (SES) children with asthma. Noting that SES and related stressors contribute to poor health outcomes, they ask why some people do not succumb to illness in these settings, then look for answers among children with asthma from a range of socioeconomic levels.

Chen et al. postulated that low-SES asthmatic children with “shift and persist” adaptive strategies would have a psychological advantage that would be clinically demonstrable, compared to low-SES asthmatic children who did not use those strategies. Shift and persist strategies are adaptive psychological responses to stressors wherein the person tries to interpret stressors in less negative ways (shift) and remains optimistic about the future in spite of the stressors (persist).

The authors found that low-SES asthmatic children employing shift and persist strategies had less asthma-associated inflammation and less impairment at baseline as well as at the 6-month follow-up. In fact, these children exhibited low levels of inflammation and impairment that were similar to high-SES asthmatic children. Of particular interest, Chen et al. note that shift and persist strategies were not effective in high-SES asthmatic children.

They conclude by commenting on application of these observations as a starting point to address health disparities associated with disadvantaged individuals. Chen et al. also suggest that additional research on these effects should cover other chronic illnesses.

We asked lead author Edith Chen, PhD, from the University of British Columbia, to tell us about the potential implications of this study.

Dr. Chen: The hope is that by identifying strategies that are used naturally by some, resilient low SES children and which are beneficial to asthma, these strategies could then be taught to other low SES children in an effort to reduce stressful experiences and their adverse effects on asthma in this population.

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