The following was originally published at healthcentral.com on February 26, 2015
What is the Asthma Syndrome?
To the advantage of every asthmatic, researchers continue to fine tune the definition of asthma. Now, rather than describing it as a disease that affects all victims the same, many asthma experts say it is a syndrome. So what is this, and what does it mean?
A syndrome is a group of diseases that present with similar signs and symptoms. There are six very good reasons to refer to asthma as a syndrome.
1. Heterogeneous. Researchers have learned that every case of asthma is unique, and this may be because each asthmatic has a unique combination of asthma genes.
2. Causes. Researchers have determined that there are over 24 things that might cause asthma. This might be because different asthma genes cause asthma only after exposure (or repeated exposure) to certain environmental substances, and this can happen at nearly any stage of life. The substance might be aspirin in one person and dust mites in another. It might be cold air in one and chemicals in the air at work in another.
3. Triggers. While one asthmatic might display symptoms after exposure to dust mites, another may display symptoms only during times of stress or anxiety. Some only have attacks after exercising, while others only have them after exposure to cold air.
4. Treatment. Most asthmatics present with inflamed airways that respond well corticosteroid therapy. Others have thickened airway walls that respond poorly to inhaled corticosteroid therapy.
5. Asthma Subtypes. This is where asthmatics who present similarly, with similar triggers, and who benefit from similar treatment options, are looped together. Examples include Allergic Asthma, Exercise Induced Bronchospasm, Occupational Asthma, Severe Asthma, Aspirin Exacerbated Respiratory Disease, and Obese Asthma.
6. Diagnostics. Diseases like hypertension can be diagnosed simply by monitoring blood pressure over the course of time. If it is chronically high you have the disease. Asthma is not so easy to diagnose, mainly because there are so many diseases that mimic it, and there is no one definitive test to diagnose it. Diagnosing someone can be as simple as looking at a person's medical or family history, or as difficult as ruling out other similar diseases.
The Asthma Syndrome. Loop all of these things together and what you have is a syndrome composed of various similar diseases or, in our case, subtypes. They all present with airways that are oversensitive to certain environmental triggers, exposure to which causes airways to become narrow, resulting in symptoms such as shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, and coughing.
So how does this benefit you? Focusing on asthma as a syndrome composed of similar subtypes means that researchers can better focus on treatment options and guidelines for each subtype, rather than just treating all cases of asthma the same. This means that, regardless of what subtype of asthma you have, your doctor will be better equipped to help you gain good control of your asthma syndrome.