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Asthma Pathophysiology: What Does Asthma Pathophysiology Mean?

Asthma Pathophysiology: What Changes Occur in the Lungs With Asthma?


Updated May 19, 2014

The key to understanding why your doctor prescribes certain medications or asks you to do certain things related to asthma is to understand a little about asthma pathophysiology. Asthma pathophysiology can be thought of as the study of the changes like inflammation and bronchoconstriction that occur in the lungs related to asthma. The term pathophysiology comes from the Greek stems:

  • Pathos- meaning "suffering or disease"
  • Physiologia- combining physis meaning "nature" plus logos meaning "study".

Thus, asthma pathophysiology is the study the processes that lead to asthma and its complications. This includes all of the things that may contribute to asthma and consequently can be intervened upon as part of your asthma treatment. All of the following topics can be considered part of asthma pathophysiology:

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Asthma Pathophysiology: What Happens When the Lungs Don't Work Right

As your asthma worsens, three primary asthma pathophysiology changes take place in your lungs:

  • Increased Mucus: As your airways become irritated and inflamed, the cells produce more mucus. The thick mucus may clog the airways of your ling.

  • Inflammation and Swelling: Just as your ankle swells from the irritation caused by a twisted ankle, the airways of your lungs swell in response to whatever is causing your asthma attack.

  • Muscle Tightening: As the smooth muscles in your airways tighten in response to your asthma attack, the airways become smaller.

The narrowing of the airways may occur and bring on symptoms quickly, or it may occur over a longer period of time. The symptoms of the attack itself may range from very mild to very severe.

These symptoms include:

With appropriate treatment, progression of asthma pathophysiology may be prevented. Over time if asthma is poorly controlled, remodeling can occur and lead to permanent damage to the lungs. Poor control may result from not being prescribed enough medication, not having a large enough dose of medication, or not taking your medication as prescribed.

Preventing the Consequences of the Progression of Asthma Pathophysiology

Preventing asthma from worsening is hard because your risk depends on a number of factors both under and not under your control. For example, you can't do anything about your family history, but you can control your exposure to smoke.

On the other hand, once you have been diagnosed:

Will all help you gain control of your asthma. Understanding the pathophysiology of asthma will help you understand how your asthma works -- what makes it worse, what makes it better, and what you need to do to keep your asthma under control.


Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). Consumer Information. Accessed: June 15, 2009. IgE's Role in Allergic Asthma

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Accessed: June 15, 2009. Expert Panel Report 3 (EPR3): Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma

Merck Medicus. Asthma Pathophysiology. Function and Structure of the Respiratory System.

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