Catastrophizing and Cystic Fibrosis: Fear of Breathlessness Impacts Quality of Life

By Carisa D. Brewster

A new study has found an association between the cognitive process of breathlessness catastrophizing (BC) and poor health-related quality of life (HRQoL) in patients with cystic fibrosis.

Breathlessness is common in patients with cystic fibrosis and does impact HRQoL, even when pulmonary function is in normal ranges. Catastrophizing is a cognitive distortion where irrational thought patterns dominate, and the worst outcome is expected regarding a real or anticipated issue.

Advances in treatment have increased life expectancy for people with cystic fibrosis, but there remains a need to better examine and understand the psychological issues related to quality of life, according to researchers of this study.

“Following in the footsteps of other researchers who have begun to examine breathlessness catastrophizing in respiratory populations, such as those with COPD, we were curious to examine breathlessness catastrophizing among adults living with cystic fibrosis and how it relates to quality of life,” Danijela Maras, MA, lead researcher and doctoral student in clinical psychology at the University of Ottawa, told MD Magazine®.

Participants were recruited from a small observational cohort within the pilot project, “The Ottawa Cystic Fibrosis Treatment Knowledge and Adherence Program”, from May 2011 to June 2013. Patients were excluded if they had received a lung transplant or had an expected survival of less than one year. Final sample size was 45 adults.

The following was assessed for all participants: lung function (FEV1%), depression (Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale), anxiety (7-item Generalized Anxiety Disorder scale), pain (Cystic Fibrosis Symptom Scale, developed by researchers this for study), BC (Breathlessness Catastrophizing Scale, adapted from the Pain Catastrophizing Scale), and HRQoL (Cystic Fibrosis Quality of Life questionnaire).

After controlling for lung function, depression, anxiety, and pain, there was a significant correlation between breathlessness catastrophizing and poor HRQoL (P <.05). In addition, 40% had clinical depression and 13.3% had moderate levels of anxiety.

While results are preliminary and warrant further exploration, Maras said this highlights the importance of assessing and treating mental health difficulties in individuals with cystic fibrosis.

“For example, breathlessness catastrophizing could be targeted in psychological interventions to improve mental health, quality of life, and/or treatment,” she said. “Findings are also relevant for other populations that experience breathlessness, such as those with asthma and other respiratory diseases, neuromuscular conditions, and cancer.”

Maras said that further research should center on longitudinal designs to examine breathlessness catastrophizing in larger and more diverse populations and explore how it plays a role in treatment uptake and adherence.

The study, “Breathlessness catastrophizing relates to poorer quality of life in adults with cystic fibrosis”, was published in the Journal of Cystic Fibrosis.

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Improving Mental Health Within the CF Community

By: Ella Balasa

Having cystic fibrosis makes life sometimes stressful, sometimes lonely, sometimes painful, and oftentimes scary. But it can also make life seem more valuable, brighter, more optimistic, and more fun.

Figuring out how to balance the good and the bad, and come out from tough situations on the positive end can be challenging, especially without support from others. This includes support from family and friends who are physically there for us every day, and support from within the CF community, those who empathize in fighting this disease.

I’ve been very fortunate to have both of these kinds of support. Unfortunately, many who fight CF do it alone, without the support of many family members, friends, or spouses. Many also have yet to connect with the CF community online — either they aren’t on social media platforms or aren’t interested.

According to Cystic Fibrosis Foundation guidelines, CF patients are not to be within 6 feet of each other under any circumstances. They are encouraged to avoid being in the same vicinity at all. This is to prevent cross-infection, the transference of antibiotic-resistant bacteria between patients, which could spread more sickness around the CF population.

While this precaution is in place for our health benefit, it isn’t conducive to real-life friendships among individuals. This can create feelings of isolation, sadness, and the belief that no one understands, and combined with a potential lack of physical support from friends and family, it can be a recipe for serious mental health issues.

Everyone needs physical relationships. We all need someone’s embrace when we’re hurting. In a CF perspective, the hurt can be physical (such as lung pains or fevers) or mental (when we’ve hit a brick wall or the optimism we have that the next day will be better has faded).

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Depression Shown To Impact Lung Function in Cystic Fibrosis Patients

A recent study entitled “Symptoms of depression impact the course of lung function in adolescents and adults with cystic fibrosis,” published in the journal BMC Pulmonary Medicine examined depression as potential predictor of a decline in lung function in patients Continue reading Depression Shown To Impact Lung Function in Cystic Fibrosis Patients