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

OCTOBER 15, 2018
Carisa D. Brewster
Danijela Maras, MADanijela Maras, MA
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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