Psychological factors such as anxiety, depressive disorders and/or personality disorders may predispose patients with asthma to near fatal asthma (NFA) or fatal asthma (FA). NFA is defined by an asthma exacerbation resulting in respiratory arrest requiring mechanical ventilation or a pCO(2) >or=45 mm Hg. Most studies have used the case-control study design. Several studies analyzing the effects of psychological factors on the risk of NFA or FA have shown conflicting results. We reviewed all of the literature found by the systematic search done of psychological factors on the risk NFA or FA. A MEDLINE search identified 423 articles between 1960 and March 2006. Seven case-controlled studies were identified following strict applications of the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Due to the significant heterogeneity in the measurement of the psychological factors, a summary statistic was not calculated. The trial characteristics were tabulated and qualitative trends were observed to explain the heterogeneity in the results of the studies. Recommendations on future studies in the field are outlined in detail. Following a systematic assessment of all published studies, we cannot conclude that psychological factors increase the risk of NFA and FA.