Asthma in Women, Asthma in Pregnancy (cont.)

It is becoming more and more clear that asthma and gastroesophageal reflux can often occur in the same person. Gastroesophageal reflux is a condition of irritation and inflammation of the esophagus due to contact of the stomach contents with the lining of the esophagus. Although the cause and effect of how asthma and reflux are related are blurry, in terms of which one triggers the other, when the two conditions (not infrequently) occur in the same person they can trigger each other.

There may be genetic component to asthma, meaning that the built-in messages physically passed on from birth from our parents may play a role. It has long been observed that asthma sometimes "runs in families". Already genes causing susceptibility to asthma in such families are being discovered.

Asthma can occur in pregnancy and requires very close monitoring during that time. Asthma can even begin during pregnancy. Three to five percent of all pregnant women have asthma (11).

The Magnitude of the Problem

Asthma is responsible for:

  • Restricted days - over 100 millions days annually)
  • Huge costs - total annual costs of $6.2 billion
  • Deaths - 5,000 asthma-related deaths in the U.S. each year

The National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (NAEPP) started in 1989 with the goal of raising awareness about the seriousness of asthma as a chronic disease, as well as improving recognition of symptoms of asthma by doctors and the public. The NAEPP is run by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Statistics about asthma, including those above, can be obtained from the NAEPP.

Between 12 and 15 million people in the U.S. have asthma (7). One 1998 estimate from the Centers for Disease Control, was even higher at 17 million. In 1998, asthma cost the U.S. $11.3 billion (2).

Diagnosis (Symptoms): How Does a Woman Know She Has Asthma?

There are many hints that a woman has asthma, but she may not recognize it as asthma. Understanding the symptoms is easier after realizing what is actually happening during the attack.

A few major things happen during an asthma attack. First of all, the muscles lining the airways spasm, meaning tighten up, and this causes the tubes to become narrow. Secondly, to make matters worse, more mucus is produced than usual. The mucus can block the flow of air in the already narrow tubes. These changes are responsible for the symptoms of asthma, the hints that someone has asthma. The inflammation causes wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and cough, which tend to be worse in the night and early morning. Asthmatics tend to be more sensitive to things that generally irritate the airways, like heavy scents and smoke. Sometimes people have disrupted sleep from asthma because they wake up with coughing or trouble breathing. Asthma can get better, stay the same, or get worse with time. It is pretty much impossible to predict what will happen years down the road in a given person.

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