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Young people with chronic medical conditions are more at risk for anxiety disorders

Researchers took a closer look into trends surrounding young people’s mental health

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Children continue to be diagnosed with mental health conditions, which could be triggered by anything from lack of sleep to poor diet.  

Now, researchers say that poor physical health can also lead to mental health problems. According to a new study, children who struggle with chronic medical conditions could be at an increased risk for anxiety disorders. 

“Associated with significant implications, the combination of anxiety disorders and a physical disease presents the potential for worsened physical disease outcomes,” said researcher Vanessa Cobham, PhD. “Health professionals working with children and adolescents with chronic medical conditions should routinely screen for the presence of anxiety disorders in order to provide the best possible care to these youth.” 

Higher risk of anxiety problems

The researchers analyzed over 50 previous studies that explored both anxiety disorders and chronic health conditions among young people. There were seven chronic conditions the researchers focused on for the study: juvenile arthritis, diabetes, sickle cell disease, epilepsy, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, and congenital heart disease. 

The studies fell into two categories: those that examined how anxiety disorders affected physical health outcomes and those that examined the prevalence of anxiety disorders among kids and teens with chronic medical conditions. 

After analyzing two dozen studies within the first group, the researchers learned that anxiety greatly affects young people’s physical health -- though different conditions yielded different anxiety-related symptoms. For example, those with inflammatory bowel disease were more likely to experience more frequent flare-ups of the condition, whereas those with asthma were more likely to miss school. 

The researchers examined nearly 30 more studies in the second group that explored the prevalence of anxiety disorders among young people with chronic conditions. Their work revealed that anxiety is quite common among young people in this group, with up to 50 percent of the children involved in the study reporting that they struggled with anxiety in some way. That’s nearly seven times higher than the global average. 

While the researchers believe that more work needs to be done in this area, these findings can help medical professionals provide children with chronic medical conditions the widest scope of care. 

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