03:51am Thursday 12 December 2019

War-Related Stress Associated with Increased Risk of Asthma

“There’s been increasing evidence linking stress with physiological alterations and inflammatory diseases, like asthma,” said Rosalind Wright, MD, MPH, of the Channing Laboratory and the Department of Medicine at BWH. “In this study we found that stress resulting from war and occupation was linked to a higher likelihood of developing asthma.”

The study is based on a random sample of just over 2000 Kuwaiti civilians aged 50 to 69 years, who endured the Iraqi invasion and seven month occupation of their country. Between 2003 and 2005, these civilians were asked questions about their experience and their health, including their experiences during the war, various lifestyle factors, and whether they were diagnosed with asthma after liberation. Civilians who were most traumatized were found to be twice as likely to develop the condition as those who reported fewer war-relates stress experiences.
Around one in six men and one in five women did not experience trauma during the War, while two-thirds of the men and over half of the women feared for their lives. Among the 413 participants with a low war-related stress score, only one reported having been assaulted; three said they had been arrested; and 28 had had their house searched. None had witnessed torture, rape, or executions. However, among the 517 with a high stress score, around one in 10 had been arrested; one in six had been assaulted; and more than half had witnessed torture.

New cases of asthma after liberation had been diagnosed in 6.6 percent of the men and 9.7 percent of the women. There was a direct correlation between the amount of trauma experienced during the invasion and occupation and the risk of developing asthma, even after adjusting for factors likely to influence the results, including exposure to air pollution as a result of burning oil fires.

“Future work linking war-related experiences in Kuwaiti civilians to adverse physical health outcomes will examine changes in biological markers of the stress response to more directly test what may explain the observed associations,” explained Dr. Wright.

The study was funded by the Public Authority for Assessment of Compensation for Damage Resulting from the Iraqi Aggression (PAAC).

Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) is a 777-bed nonprofit teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a founding member of Partners HealthCare, an integrated health care delivery network. In July of 2008, the hospital opened the Carl J. and Ruth Shapiro Cardiovascular Center, the most advanced center of its kind. BWH is committed to excellence in patient care with expertise in virtually every specialty of medicine and surgery.  The BWH medical preeminence dates back to 1832, and today that rich history in clinical care is coupled with its national leadership in quality improvement and patient safety initiatives and its dedication to educating and training the next generation of health care professionals. Through investigation and discovery conducted at its Biomedical Research Institute (BRI), BWH is an international leader in basic, clinical and translational research on human diseases, involving more than 860 physician-investigators and renowned biomedical scientists and faculty supported by more than $416 M in funding. BWH is also home to major landmark epidemiologic population studies, including the Nurses’ and Physicians’ Health Studies and the Women’s Health Initiative. For more information about BWH, please visit www.brighamandwomens.org.

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