Monday, May 28, 2012

So what causes asthma? How did I get here?

Inflammation, my friends.  But what does that word mean?  It just means an immune response.  That's all. Simple, right?  WRONG.  It can be caused by a million things, triggered in a million ways - many of which we still don't understand - and it can cause a million "problems" in the body.

Inflammation causes my asthma.  It caused my thyroid disease.  It causes my migraines and it causes my knee and hip pain.  Finally, it even causes all of those womanly pains that come once a month.  So basically, its a big deal for me.  If it continues, it can cause clogged arteries and subsequent heart disease.  Left unchecked, it can cause cancer.  MOST IMPORTANTLY:  it limits my life.  Sometimes I wake up in the morning totally swollen and feeling it - I don't want to move.  Have you ever woken up just feeling swollen?  I will say to my husband "I feel as bloated as a thanksgiving turkey" on those days.  Is this normal?  Do millions of people feel this way and don't even recognize it for what it is?  I think the answer is Yes.  Leave me a comment if you've ever felt blah, taken an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen/motrin or naproxen and felt 100x better.  I bet it wasn't even pain relief that made you feel better.  I bet it was relief from inflammation.

Why do we become inflammed?  There's a trigger - that's for sure.  The problem is that it could be anything.  It could be a drug you're taking.  Do you take a statin (one of those fancy cholesterol-reducing drugs like Lipitor)?  Those can cause muscle inflammation.  Now don't get your panties in a bunch and call to cuss out your primary care physician.  For most people the benefit of reduction in cholesterol far outweighs the slight increase in risk of muscle injury from chronic inflammation.  I'm just sayin' that there are million ways to trigger an immune response.  How about getting injured?  Any time you cut, scrape, scratch or otherwise maim yourself, you get an immune response.  Inflammation occurs.  We sure don't want to turn OFF that response or else we'd be pretty screwed in the event of a real injury or emergency.

How about the nitty gritty.  What exactly happens during inflammation response?  If you'd really like to know the biology and the -omics and -ations and -enesis's of it all, please read this article from Nature Reviews Cancer.  It's really REALLY good.
Basically it boils down to this:  Something triggers your immune system to "React."  Reacting means that a specific kind of immune cell - in the case of an allergic response its a histamine-releasing cell like a mast cell or a basophil - dumps its load of signals into the bloodstream and like volunteer firefighters to a siren, TONNNNNS of cells are recruited to the area.  These cells, in turn, pump out chemicals that make things worse and worse until you have a full blown overreaction (perhaps justified, but mostly not).  Blood vessels are told to open up - to dilate - to increase blood flow to the area, fluid accumulates just in case its needed, and tons and tons of crunchy matrix upon which cells can repair the wound (or perceived wound) is deposited.  This is just a subset of what happens when a Reaction is triggered.

EEEEEEEEW.  All of this is happening in my LUNGS?  No wonder I'm coughing and hacking if all of that "stuff" is accumulating in there every time my immune system overreacts to something.

I've spent the weekend turning OFF my immune response.  It's working.  The prednisone, inhaled steroid, singulair and benadryl at night have resulting in an amazing ability to - put simply - breathe.  I can breathe in and out without coughing and without any pain in my chest/throat/nose/etc.


Let's keep it this way, mmkay?  We'll talk again soon about some not-so-obvious things that may be triggering these outbursts by my aggravated immune system.



  1. I cannot wait for you to read the book. I know you'll have some issues with the science lite tone of it, and I'm interested to hear if you think it's all crap. But I can't argue with the changes I've seen in the last year. And I (like most people) got used to feeling bad all the time, and was shocked when I realized what "normal" felt like, and that it wasn't achy, tired, wheezing and bloated. I'm glad the meds are helping.

  2. What's the title of the book? I'm alwasy up for a good healthy read.

    1. I will let you know tomorrow - it arrives on my doorstep - a gift from Claudia :)