Mental illness has long been considered a silent disease. Recently, physical changes in the body associated with mental illness have brought the light the very physical threats to pregnant women suffering from depression, anxiety and increased stress levels.

Researchers from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, revealed in a study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology that these mental illnesses may be linked to asthma in children. The study included nearly 280 women living in the inner-city. African-American and Hispanic women were represented in the study, but there were no Caucasian pregnant women. Women were followed through the entire pregnancy process, including time before they became pregnant and after giving birth.

According to researchers, women reporting symptoms of mental illness, like depression, were more likely to report children suffering asthma symptoms before the age of five. Studies of this nature are highly important to the medical community because 70-percent of the women reporting symptoms of mental illness, especially depression and anxiety, had children affected by asthma symptoms. The most common symptoms of asthma include night-time coughing, wheezing during breathing and rapid breathing. Recurring or frequent chest colds is another key symptom of asthma.

While asthma is treatable, in many cases, childhood asthma is of particular concern because children are often too young to understand the symptoms or self-treat with inhalers at the first signs of difficulty breathing. Researchers noted the possible connection between family financial status and increased depression and anxiety symptoms. Families with fewer financial resources may suffer depression and anxiety more often, leading to undue stress on the fetus and, potentially, increased risk of asthma in childhood.

Doctors continue to research the effects of mental illness on the unborn fetus. If doctors can connect life stressors to childhood diseases, pregnant women could be given proper education and mental health support to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in hopes of relieving as much stress as possible. Education about the risk factors associated with stress could be prepared for high risk pregnant women.

Source: Marilyn Reyes, Matthew S. Perzanowski, Robin M. Whyatt, Elizabeth A. Kelvin, Andrew G. Rundle, Diurka M. Diaz, Lori Hoepner, Frederica P. Perera, Virginia Rauh, Rachel L. Miller. Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. 7 July, 2011.

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