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NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health


Turning Discovery Into Health – Asthma

Female doctor examining a boy
Pathology of Asthma illustration

(Top row) Location of the lungs and airways in the body. (Second row) At left, cross-section of a normal airway. Middle and right images show a cross-section of an airway during asthma symptoms and attack.

Revolutionary ideas often come from unexpected directions. Many concepts and tools central to understanding and improving health have come from basic, untargeted research. NIH not only supports these basic advances but also conducts the clinical and translational research that transforms discoveries into medical practice in four areas: chronic diseases, infectious diseases, personalized medicine and new technologies, and health at all ages.

Chronic medical conditions—including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and depression—cause more than half of all deaths worldwide. These long-term diseases affect people of all ages, both rich and poor, in every ethnic group. Many chronic diseases have genetic components, which raise disease risk in certain people or populations. The environment can also contribute to risk, and so can lifestyle choices, including your diet, physical activity, and whether or not you smoke.

Fast Facts

  • Asthma is a chronic (long-term) lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways. The exact cause is unknown. There is no cure.
  • Asthma most often starts during childhood. Of the 24.6 million Americans affected, nearly seven million are children.
  • Asthma causes wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing at night or early morning.
  • Sometimes symptoms are mild and go away on their own or after minimal treatment. When symptoms get more intense and/or more symptoms occur, you’re having an asthma attack.
  • It’s important to treat asthma symptoms when you first notice them. This helps prevent them from worsening and causing severe attacks that may require emergency care, and can be fatal.
  • Asthma is diagnosed based on your medical history, a physical exam, and test results. Diagnosis is difficult in children under five.
  • You must actively manage your asthma, get ongoing care, and watch for signs it is worsening.
  • Exercise is an asthma trigger, but do not avoid it. Physical activity is important for health. Discuss with your doctor medicines that can help you stay active.
  • Most people who have asthma are able to manage the disease. They have few, if any, symptoms and can live normal, active lives.

To Find Out More

Fall 2011 Issue: Volume 6 Number 3 Page 4