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Respiratory Disease

What is asthma?


Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) COPD is a term that refers to a large group of lung diseases which can interfere with normal breathing. It is estimated that 11 percent of the US population has COPD. The two most common conditions of COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The causes of COPD are not fully understood. It is generally agreed that the most important cause of chronic bronchitis and emphysema is cigarette smoking. Causes such as air pollution and occupational exposures may play a role, especially when combined with cigarette smoking. Heredity also plays a contributing role in some patients' emphysema, and is especially important in a rare form due to alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency.


Symptoms Patients with chronic bronchitis usually have cough and sputum for many years before they develop shortness of breath. Patients with emphysema usually have shortness of breath and develop cough and sputum during a respiratory infection, or in the later stages of the illness. Asthma is a chronic, inflammatory lung disease involving recurrent breathing problems. The characteristics of asthma are three airway problems: * obstruction * inflammation * hyper-responsiveness


What are the symptoms of asthma? 


The following are the most common symptoms for asthma however, each person may experience symptoms differently. Sometimes the only symptom is a chronic cough, especially at night, or coughing or wheezing that occurs only with exercise. Some people think they have recurrent bronchitis, since respiratory infections usually settle in the chest in a person predisposed to asthma. Asthma may resemble other respiratory problems such as emphysema, bronchitis, and lower respiratory infections. It is under-diagnosed many people with the disease do not know they have it. Consult your physician for a diagnosis.


What causes asthma? 

The basic cause of the lung abnormality in asthma is not yet known, although health care professionals have established that it is a special type of inflammation of the airway that leads to:

    * contraction of airway muscles
    * mucus production
    * swelling in the airways

It is important to know that asthma is not caused by emotional factors as commonly believed years ago. Emotional anxiety and nervous stress can cause fatigue, which may affect the immune system and increase asthma symptoms, or aggravate an attack. However, these reactions are considered to be more of an effect than a cause.

What happens during an asthma attack?

Persons with asthma have acute episodes when the air passages in their lungs get narrower, and breathing becomes more difficult. These problems are caused by an oversensitivity of the lungs and airways.

* Lungs and airways overreact to certain triggers and become inflamed and clogged.

* Breathing becomes harder and may hurt.
* There may be coughing.
* There may be a wheezing or whistling sound, which is typical of asthma. Wheezing occurs because:
* muscles that surround the airways tighten, and the inner lining of the airways swells and pushes inward.
* membranes that line the airways secrete extra mucus.
* the mucus can form plugs that further block the air passages.
* the rush of air through the narrowed airways produces the wheezing sounds.

What are the risk factors for an asthma attack?

What is a risk factor?

A risk factor is anything that may increase a person's chance of developing a disease. It may be an activity, diet, family history or many other things.

Different diseases have different risk factors. Although these factors can increase a person's risk, they do not necessarily cause the disease. For example, some people with one or more risk factors never develop the disease, while others develop the disease and have no known risk factors.

Knowing your risk factors to any disease can help to guide you into the appropriate actions, including changing behaviors and being clinically monitored for the disease.

Although anyone may have an asthma attack, it most commonly occurs in:

    * children, by the age of 5
    * adults in their 30s
    * adults older than 65
    * people living in urban communities

Other factors include:

    * family history of asthma
    * personal medical history of allergies

How is asthma diagnosed?

To diagnose asthma and distinguish it from other lung disorders, physicians rely on a combination of medical history, physical examination and laboratory tests, which may include:

* spirometry (using an instrument that measures the air taken into and out of the lungs)

* peak flow monitoring (another measure of lung function)

* chest x-rays

* blood tests

* allergy tests

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