A whopping 22 million Americans have asthma, and roughly 10 to 15 percent have what's considered "severe persistent asthma," or asthma that is not well controlled despite the combined use of standard medicines such as inhaled corticosteroids and long-acting beta-agonists.
For these folks, every day is a challenge. Asthma attacks happen routinely, as do trips to the emergency room. Patients can't leave the house without an inhaler, and they have to take extreme precautions every day to avoid anything that might trigger an asthma attack. It's not an easy lifestyle.
Fortunately, treatments are becoming available to improve the quality of life for those with severe asthma. In April 2010, the FDA approved a novel form of asthma treatment called bronchial thermoplasty (BT). El Camino Hospital is one of the first 12 hospitals nationwide (and one of just two in the state) to offer it. Read more about our bronchial thermoplasty program.
The Bronchial Thermoplasty System
BT is not a medication; it's a device-based asthma treatment (also known as the Alair System and manufactured by Asthmatx, Inc., of Sunnyvale, Calif. ). The device uses heat to reduce the smooth muscle in the airway, which is enlarged in patients with severe asthma. Reducing the amount of muscle allows the airway to become less constricted during an asthma attack, so patients are able to breathe more easily when something triggers their asthma.
Early Results for Treatment of Severe Asthma
So far, the results seem promising. "In clinical studies, bronchial thermoplasty has been shown to help patients with severe asthma gain substantially better control over their disease," says James Canfield, diagnostic and interventional pulmonary technologist for El Camino Hospital and coordinator of the hospital's BT program.
According to clinical trial data, patients who had the procedure experienced a 32 percent reduction in asthma attacks, an 84 percent reduction in emergency room visits for respiratory symptoms, a 73 percent reduction in hospitalizations for respiratory symptoms, and a 66 percent reduction in days lost from work, school or other daily activities due to asthma. Patients continued to take their standard asthma maintenance medications during the clinical studies.
"Although we're just getting started with our first set of patients at El Camino Hospital, patients in the U.S. clinical trials reported that their use of rescue inhalers decreased dramatically following their course of treatment with BT," notes Canfield. "That's why we're so excited to begin offering it here."
Indications and Use for Asthma Patients
The BT system is indicated for patients 18 and older whose asthma is not well controlled with current medications. BT is given as an outpatient procedure (with light anesthesia) in three separate treatments, which are scheduled about three weeks apart.
The procedure is not intended to replace the use of medications, but is designed to improve the quality of life of people with severe asthma.
For more information on the BT procedure, call the hospital's Interventional Pulmonology Program at 650-962-5813 or 800-216-5556. The program is led by Dr. Ganesh Krishna, MD. You can also visit the manufacturer's bronchial thermoplasty web site.