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New procedure helping asthma patients breathe easier

Posted May 18, 2012

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— Most people take breathing for granted, but for people with asthma, wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath are all scary symptoms that can result in trips to the hospital. 

In some cases, medicines stop working for patients with severe asthma.

Thanks to a new procedure, however, those patients are getting a chance at living a more active life. 

First available at Duke University Hospital, a procedure called bronchial thermoplasty uses heat to help smooth airways that become damaged over time due to asthma symptoms. 

New asthma treatment offers relief Procedure relieves long-term effects of asthma

Doctors send a bronchoscope inside the lungs of asthma patients with a special catheter that delivers heat to the surface of muscles. Approved two years ago by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the procedure is perfect for the 10 to 20 percent of asthma sufferers that don't see results from normal medications. 

"There have been some remarkable responses to the procedure where patients have been able to taper their medications significantly," Duke pulmonologist Monica Kraft said. 

Studies indicate that the three-part procedure reduces asthma flare-ups by up to 30 percent and reduces emergency room visits by nearly 80 percent. 

One such patient is Sara Beth Owen, a 26-year-old asthma sufferer who says she has struggled with symptoms since she was an infant. Owen wasn't able to run without pain and made frequent visits to the hospital before deciding to undergo the bronchial thermoplasty procedure at Duke. 

After completing two of the three treatment sessions, Owen said the difference is noticeable for her and her dog, who is getting to go on more frequent walks. 

"For me, this is a huge accomplishment," Owen said. "I ran about 1,000 feet with him and my lung didn't shut down. This is my really big shot. I'm at the prime age and I want to have kids and a life."

Insurance companies haven't completely come on board with covering the procedure yet, but many patients have been able to receive the treatment as study participants. 

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  • MzLadySmiling May 23, 2012

    for some people, cushioncritter... asthma is an extremely debilitating disease... treatments are what people seek out... not what is mandated by the criminal justice system...
    there are some people out there grateful to our medical communities for these advancements....
    it's times like this that give me hope that I won't pre-decease my daughter who has suffered miserably for as many years as she is old.... 37.... and many days are an awful struggle...
    so let us not compare apples to a glass of milk... it makes no sense in that context....

  • ICTrue May 22, 2012

    "This is similar to controlling Atrial Fibrillation by burning large areas of the inside of the heart (RF ablation). Cardiologists claimed originally to be burning "one tiny spot' to control AFIB, but have now dropped that pretense and use a balloon rather than a needle to apply heat over a large area."

    I had a ablation done on my heart. They spent several hours mapping it out and then burned two tiny spots. That pretty much ended my symptoms and 30 years of taking medication to control PAT. I have known other people that didn't have the same result though and have been back several times for similar procedures.

  • dgcreech May 22, 2012

    I am going to be watching this very closely. If I miss a single dose of my asthma medication, I can surely tell the difference. I already have issues with excessive walking much less running and we won't even go into exercise - so this is surely a possibility!

  • cushioncritter May 22, 2012

    Fact check: rather than "removing excess tissue", this procedure actually destroys the bronchial "smooth muscle tissue" with heat. Asthma attacks become impossible because the muscles that contract the bronchial tubes are now destroyed. Yet those muscles are present for a reason, to handle situations like drowning and dust storms.

    This is similar to controlling Atrial Fibrillation by burning large areas of the inside of the heart (RF ablation). Cardiologists claimed originally to be burning "one tiny spot' to control AFIB, but have now dropped that pretense and use a balloon rather than a needle to apply heat over a large area.

    What other innovative uses for burning away "useless" tissue will medicine find next? Could certain criminals be released from prison if certain areas of their brain were burned away?