Asthmatics frightened to hear “wheeze”

A study carried out in the U.S. says that simply mentioning words such as "wheeze" can activate the brains of asthma patients. The research shed light on the emotional underpinnings of the disease.

They found that asthma patients have extra brain activity in an area called the anterior cingulate cortex, which is associated with emotional responses.

The small study of six patients, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the brains of people with asthma may over-react to emotional and physiological signals related to their disease, the researchers said.

Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and colleagues said their findings may help explain why asthma attacks in response to allergens can worsen during stressful times, according to Reuters.

For the study, patients with asthma were given ragweed or dust-mite extracts to inhale and then heard three different types of words - asthma-related words such as "wheeze", non-asthma negative terms such as "loneliness" and neutral words such as "curtains".

Functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, was used to watch the brain action in real time. Two areas of the brain showed more activity in response to asthma-related words - the insula, which plays a role in obtaining information about the body's physiological condition, such as shortness of breath, and the anterior cingulate cortex, involved in processing emotions.

"In asthmatics, the anterior cingulate cortex and the insula may be hyper-responsive to emotional and physiological signals, like inflammation, which may in turn influence the severity of symptoms," Davidson was quoted as saying by Reuters.

"While this study was small, it shows how important specific brain circuits can be in modulating inflammation," he added.

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