Breathing Easier

Associate Professor Thomas Ritz and Assistant Professor Alicia Meuret of SMU’s Psychology Department are researching the interaction between physiological and psychological aspects of asthma and other diseases.

Asthmatics suffer from a higher rate of panic or other anxiety disorders than does the general population, especially those who develop the disease as adults, Meuret says. Her research into anxiety disorders first showed that breathing exercises were highly effective in reducing panic symptoms in panic patients.

Whether suffering asthma or from anxiety, “patients tend to breathe much too deeply and too fast when they’re having difficulty. their bodies are telling them to get more oxygen, but the problem is they’re retaining too little carbon dioxide”, Meuret says.

While at Stanford University Medical School, Ritz and Meuret developed a four-week pilot program to teach asthma patients how to breathe more effectively. During the program, supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, asthma patients learned through exercises to take slower, shorter breaths. They used devices called capnometers to measure and store data on their oxygen and carbon dioxide levels and respiration rates.

 Ritz and Meuret observed stable increases in patients’ carbon dioxide levels during the program and a two-month follow-up period. They also noticed reduced frequency and distress of symptoms and an increase in reported asthma control. They have applied for additional NIH funding to expand the study to larger trial groups.

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This story first appeared in the 2007 SMU Research Magazine.

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