Thursday, April 19, 2007



Asthma is a disease of the respiratory system in which the airways constrict, become inflamed, and are lined with excessive amounts of mucus, often in response to one or more "triggers," such as exposure to an environmental stimulant (or allergen ), cold air, exercise , or emotional stress. In children, the most common triggers are viral illnesses such as those that cause the common cold. This airway narrowing causes symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath , chest tightness, and coughing, which respond to bronchodilators. Between episodes, most patients feel fine.


The Asthma disorder is a chronic or recurring inflammatory condition in which the airways develop increased responsiveness to various stimuli, characterized by bronchial hyper-responsiveness, inflammation, increased mucus production, and intermittent airway obstruction. The symptoms of asthma, which can range from mild to life threatening, can usually be controlled with a combination of drugs and lifestyle changes.

Public attention in the developed world has recently focused on asthma because of its rapidly increasing prevalence, affecting up to one in four urban children. Susceptibility to asthma can be explained in part by genetic factors, but no clear pattern of inheritance has been found. Asthma is a complex disease that is influenced by multiple genetic, developmental, and environmental factors, which interact to produce the overall condition.

Asthma - Symptoms

In some individuals, asthma is characterized by chronic respiratory impairment. In others it is an intermittent illness marked by episodic symptoms that may result from a number of triggering events, including upper respiratory infection, airborne allergens, and exercise.

An acute exacerbation of asthma is referred to as an asthma attack. The clinical hallmarks of an attack are shortness of breath ( dyspnea ) and wheezing. Although the latter is "often regarded as the sine qua non of asthma," some victims present primarily with coughing, and in the late stages of an attack, air motion may be so impaired that no wheezing may be heard. When present the cough may sometimes produce clear sputum. The onset may be sudden, with a sense of constriction in the chest, breathing becomes difficult, and wheezing occurs (primarily upon expiration, but can be in both respiratory phases).

Signs of an asthmatic episode are wheezing, rapid breathing ( tachypnea ), prolonged expiration, a rapid heart rate ( tachycardia ), rhonchous lung sounds ( audible through a stethoscope ), and over-inflation of the chest. During a serious asthma attack, the accessory muscles of respiration (sternocleidomastoid and scalene muscles of the neck) may be used, shown as in-drawing of tissues between the ribs and above the sternum and clavicles , and the presence of a paradoxical pulse (a pulse that is weaker during inhalation and stronger during exhalation). During very severe attacks, an asthma sufferer can turn blue from lack of oxygen, and can experience chest pain or even loss of consciousness. Severe asthma attacks may lead to respiratory arrest and death. Despite the severity of symptoms during an asthmatic episode, between attacks an asthmatic may show few signs of the disease.

Diagnosis, Pathophysiology, Treatment, Epidemiology.

To be continued. . .

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