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Chiropractic Research Review

Writing about Stress Benefits Asthma and Arthritis Patients

This study revealed that "nonpharmacological treatments with little patient cost or risk are useful supplements to pharmacotherapy in the treatment of patients with chronic illness." The investigators were inspired by several controlled studies suggesting that physical and psychological benefits can be obtained by addressing patients' psychological needs.

Volunteer subjects (58 with asthma and 49 with rheumatoid arthritis) were assigned to one of two groups: an experimental group assigned to write about the most stressful event in their lives: and a control group told to write about emotionally neutral topics.

Participants wrote continuously for 20 minutes on 3 consecutive days. Disease activity outcomes were measured at baseline, then at 2 weeks, 2 months, and 4 months after the writing exercises. Of those who engaged in the expressive writing about their most stressful experiences, asthma patients showed improved lung function and the controls showed no change. Rheumatoid arthritis patients also revealed improvements in overall disease activity that control patients in the experimental group did not show.

According to the investigators: "This is the first study to demonstrate that writing about stressful life experiences improves physician ratings of disease severity in chronically ill patients." Specifically, they concluded:

"Patients with mild to moderately severe asthma or rheumatoid arthritis who wrote about stressful life experiences had clinically relevant changes in health status at four months compared with those in the control group. These gains were beyond those attributable to the standard medical care that all participants were receiving."

Smyth JM, Stone AA, Hurewitz A, Kaell A. Effects of writing about stressful experiences on symptom reduction in patients with asthma or rheumatoid arthritis. Journal of the American Medical Association, Apr. 14, 1999;281(14), pp1304-9.

Chiropractic Research Review

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