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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 24, Issue 3

When Talk Therapy Treats Tinnitus

Physical complaints often co-occur with certain psychological conditions. Treating the psyche in these cases seems to improve physical health, according to several recent studies.

Physical ailments are not as divorced from mental processes as we often think. Studies are turning up more and more instances in which treating the mind relieves physical symptoms or treating the body can inadvertently skew our thoughts and feelings.

Gastritis and Anxiety
People with gastritis—a blanket term for stomach and intestinal discomfort, including heartburn, nausea and abdominal pain—are nearly twice as likely as the general population to suffer from anxiety and mood disorders, according to a study published in the January Journal of Psychiatric Research. But even in patients with no known mental issues, psychotherapy improves gut health, as research published online in February in the Asian Journal of Psychiatry showed. Study participants with indigestion who received 16 weeks of a therapy aimed at helping them identify and correct dysfunctional interpersonal patterns, called core conflictual relationship theme (CCRT) psychotherapy, saw improvements in all their gastrointestinal symptoms—and their mental health—which lasted for at least a year.

Ulcers and Depression
Renee D. Goodwin, professor of psychology at Queens College and the City University of New York and co-author of the January gastritis study, and her colleagues are currently researching the relation between ulcers and depression and anxiety. Preliminary data, Goodwin says, suggest that patients treated for depression were much less likely to have an ulcer 10 years later, compared with those who were not treated.

Tinnitus and Stress
Tinnitus, or persistent ringing in the ears, affects 50 million Americans. A study published online in January in Quality of Life Research found that about half of tinnitus sufferers also have mental disorders, confirming the findings of previous research. A 2012 study found that emotional stress more strongly predicts tinnitus than other known risk factors, perhaps because the emotion-processing areas of the brain are closely connected to its auditory systems. A small study in the January Mindfulness found that reducing stress with mindful meditation alleviated tinnitus symptoms and lowered sufferers' perceived handicap.

Asthma and Depression
Research has hinted at a relation between asthma and depression. In a study published online in Psychosomatic Medicine last year, scientists found that a third of asthma patients also suffer from depression and that those individuals were more likely to have an asthma-related visit to the emergency room over the yearlong study period. The findings suggest that treating depression could make asthma attacks less severe for patients who have both conditions.

Migraine and Panic Disorder
A meta-analysis published in the January Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain determined that migraine sufferers are almost four times as likely as nonsufferers to have panic disorder, an anxiety condition characterized by disabling panic attacks. Patients who have both conditions experience more negative effects from migraine, including more frequent attacks and increased disability. Todd A. Smitherman, a psychologist at the University of Mississippi and co-author of the paper, says there is a “dire need” for studies investigating whether treating panic disorder can reduce the frequency or severity of migraines.

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