Health Guide

Health Record provides reliable answers to important health questions. Use this site to learn more about detecting, preventing, and treating a variety of medical conditions.

Identifying Asthma

Written by Mystic on Friday, November 28, 2008

Q: How do I know if I might have asthma?

A: The small airways in your lungs both swell up and become smaller when an asthma attack strikes. This leads to increased mucus production and decreased flow of the air in the lungs. Wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing result. In mild cases, these symptoms may be mild and infrequent. If your case is moderate or severe, they may come often.

You should ask your doctor whether you may have asthma if you cough after exercise or after exposure to cold winter air. If you commonly have a cough that persists for more than 2 weeks after a common cold, you may have a mild form of asthma. Likewise, you may have asthma if you wheeze or cough after exposure to dust, animal hair, cigarette smoke, or pollen.

If you experience shortness of breath unrelated to extreme exertion, you should contact your doctor. This requires prompt medical evaluation, because there are many serious causes for shortness of breath other than asthma.

Asthma may develop for the first time at any age, even in people in their 60s or 70s. At older ages, however, patients and their physicians must carefully consider the possibility of other explanations for cough, shortness of breath, or wheezing. These include cardiac disease, chronic lung diseases (such as emphysema), anemia, respiratory infection, and cancer.

This information, prepared by physicians at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), Harvard Medical School, is not medical advice and should not replace consultation with your doctor. Staff at BIDMC provide Ask an Expert responses to consumers for educational purposes only. Always consult your own doctor about any opinions or recommendations with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.

Statistics and Risk Surrounding Breast Cancer

Written by Mystic on Thursday, November 27, 2008

Q: As each year passes, I seem to know more and more women with breast cancer. What is the chance that I will develop breast cancer myself?

A: Breast cancer is the most common cancer in US women and is greatly feared. However, many women overestimate their risk. One widely quoted statistic--"one in nine"--refers to the cumulative lifetime risk of breast cancer for a woman who lives past the age of 85. The risk of breast cancer for a woman in any given year or decade of her life is much lower than one in nine. The chance a woman will develop breast cancer in the next 10 years is one in 250 for a 30-year-old woman, one in 77 for a 40-year-old woman, one in 43 for a 50-year-old woman, and one in 38 for a 60-year-old woman. Some subgroups of women have higher than average risk. Factors that increase an individual woman's chance of developing breast cancer include older age, previous breast cancer, relatives with breast cancer (especially if mother, sister or daughter is affected, or if cancer was found before menopause), previous breast biopsies (especially if precancerous tissue was found), previous uterine or ovarian cancer, past radiation treatment to the chest, having a first pregnancy after 30, having no children, having an early first period (before age 12), having a late menopause (after age 55), postmenopausal obesity, and moderate alcohol intake. Current birth control pill use raises breast cancer risk slightly. Many (but not all) studies suggest that long-term (more than 5 years) hormone replacement may slightly increase breast cancer risk.