Does Mom’s Anxiety Cause Her Child’s Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic condition that affects millions of children. Although many outgrow asthma as they mature, it can still have significant consequences during childhood. Many children feel left out as they are limited in physical activity. Others report being bullied because of their asthma.

Understanding the risk factors for asthma could reduce the incidences in childhood and improve children’s quality of life. One area of research that has received much attention is the relationship between maternal anxiety and childhood asthma. Some studies have shown that mothers who are highly anxious during pregnancy have children more vulnerable to asthma. Others have suggested a link between a mother’s anxieties in her child’s first years as a predictor of childhood asthma.

But until now, no study has looked at how a mother’s anxiety affects her child’s asthma risk using a twin study. Assessing the offspring of maternal twins is a novel way of examining the familial factors, shared environmental factors, and unique independent environmental factors of a child.

To accomplish this, Ida Havland of the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden led a study that involved 1,691 twin mothers and their teenage children. The children and mothers reported asthma symptoms and the mothers were assessed for somatic, trait and psychic anxiety.

Havland found that although there was a strong relationship between maternal anxiety and childhood asthma symptoms as reported by the children and mothers, there was only a weak association between maternal anxiety and a clinical diagnosis of asthma. In fact, the children of anxious mothers reported breathlessness as their main symptom, but few were on medication.

When Havland looked at shared environmental risks and family risks, she found that the associations revealed for maternal-child risks were similar to those of aunt-child risks. In other words, children were just as likely to have asthma whether the anxiety was present in their mother or their aunt. This finding suggests a familial risk that may outweigh that of environment.

Havland added, “A likely candidate for explaining this familial confounding is heritable personality traits associated with both anxiety and subjective measures of asthma.” Although these results shed new light on the risks for childhood asthma, more work should be done on twin samples to better identify specific risks and to determine how they can be minimized.

Havland, I., Lundholm, C., Lichtenstein, P., Neiderhiser, J.M., Ganiban, J.M., et al. (2013). The observed association between maternal anxiety and adolescent asthma: Children of twin design suggest familial effects. PLoS ONE 8(6): e66040. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.006604

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  • Evelyn


    June 26th, 2013 at 3:24 AM

    Jeesh! Just doesn’t pay anymore to be a mother because naturally everything is getting blamed on us!

  • ken


    June 26th, 2013 at 10:47 PM

    guess its time to have the family health history on paper before actually going in for a baby.medical science should make the transition to the next level.its time to prevent these things!

  • Don


    June 27th, 2013 at 4:08 AM

    Looks like in this case there are btoo many other factors that could point to asthma in kids, the least of which is whether or not the mom was a little anxious while she was pregnant. Let’s instead focus more on the environment (physical) that the child is being raised in, and yes, whether there is a family history of asthma. These would seem to be more indicative of asthma being a factor in the life of this child.

  • zoya


    October 24th, 2013 at 3:52 AM

    Ow, this is a new and strange cause for asthma. I did not know about it till now. but i did not understand it how mother’s anxiety can cause asthma in children. As per a new study, vinyle flooring in schools cause asthma in kids. because vinyle contains a substance called phthalates to which people are easily exposed, causes breath problems.

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