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Harvard Commentaries
Harvard Commentaries
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Dealing With A New Diagnosis

July 29, 2008

Assess Your Health
Dealing With A New Diagnosis
Dealing With A New Diagnosis
No one knows why, but the number of people with asthma increased significantly during the 1980s and through the mid-1990s.
InteliHealth/Harvard Medical Content
No one knows why, but the number of people with asthma increased significantly during the 1980s and through the mid-1990s. Since that time, the number of people who have asthma has been stable. Still, if you have a new diagnosis of asthma, you have a lot of company.
Asthma can range widely in terms of how much it affects a person. You might have seen a friend affected by asthma, and his or her experience might cause you to have expectations about your own future with asthma:
  • If you have a friend who uses an inhaler before exercising but who isn't otherwise bothered by asthma, you might expect your own asthma to be little more than an annoying problem.
  • If you had a friend as a child who couldn't participate in gym class, play sports or go on overnight hiking trips, you might expect your own asthma to be something that may limit your lifestyle.
  • If you have a friend who makes frequent trips to the emergency room because of asthma or if you know someone who has died because of it, you might worry that your own asthma will be a serious, life-threatening condition.
In reality, asthma can take any of these forms. It can range from a mild, almost unnoticed disease that barely interferes with daily life to a disease that can be deadly, although that is rare. Depending on how you manage your asthma, you could fit in anywhere along this scale. You should expect to take this condition seriously, use your medicines carefully, and avoid triggers. The bottom line is that you can control your asthma — it doesn't have to control you.
The severity of your symptoms when you are first diagnosed with asthma may relate to your genes. Or your symptoms may have to do with things in your environment, such as dust or pets, that stimulate inflammation and asthma attacks.
Being diagnosed with asthma usually means making modest changes in the way you live. Your asthma plan will depend on the symptoms or severity of your asthma and on how your symptoms are triggered. Once you get your asthma under control and keep it under control, you should be able to have an active life, whether you define active as dancing a couple nights a week or taking part in competitive sports. Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Pittsburgh Steeler Jerome "The Bus" Bettis are just two of many athletes who have asthma. In fact, staying active is key to keeping your lungs as healthy as possible.
You can expect that your symptoms will get better with treatment.


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