Date of Award

12-2001

Level of Access

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Advisor

Sandra T. Sigmon

Second Committee Member

Jeffrey E. Hecker

Third Committee Member

Mark Jackson

Abstract

Recently, the relationship of anxiety with asthma has been investigated in the psychological literature, revealing that individuals with asthma are more likely to develop panic disorder than are individuals without asthma (e.g., Carr, 1998). Two theories (dyspnedsuffocation fear theory and cognitive theory) have been used to explain how asthma symptoms are affected by panic attacks or panic disorder. The present study examines both theories, as well as a hypothesis developed by Carr (1 998) that suggests that the presence of panic disorder in individuals with asthma may lead to better lung functioning in response to stressful stimuli than for individuals with asthma alone. Sixty undergraduate females participated. They were divided into four groups based on history of asthma and panic disorder (Asthma only, Panic only, Asthma and Panic, Control). Participants completed questionnaires that assessed depressed mood, anxiety, anxiety sensitivity, self-focus on bodily sensations, fear of bodily sensations, and misinterpretation of bodily sensations. Each participant engaged in a 5 min baseline and three experimental tasks: breathing through a straw, turning one’s head from side to side, and relaxation. Following each task, spirometry measurements were taken, and participants completed measures of panic and asthma symptoms, panic attack related cognitions, and mood. Women with panic disorder (with or without asthma) reported more depressed mood, trait anxiety, self-focus on bodily sensations, fear of bodily sensations, and anxiety sensitivity (on one of two measures of anxiety sensitivity) than women with asthma only or controls. Women with both asthma and panic disorder reported higher levels of asthma-related symptoms than women with asthma only. Little support was found for the application of cognitive theory to asthma alone, however, cognitive theory continued to explain results for individuals in the panic groups. Likewise, dyspnedsuffocation fear theory was not supported by the present study, nor was Carr’s hypothesis. Implications of these results for the two theories and Carr’s hypothesis are discussed. In addition, suggestions for future research are made.

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