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Health Conditions That Mimic Asthma

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Just because you have symptoms of asthma, such as wheezing, coughing, or difficulty breathing does not mean that you have asthma. Other health conditions have symptoms that may mimic asthma symptoms. Let’s look at some common "asthma mimics."

Health Conditions That Mimic Asthma Symptoms

Because other health conditions may appear to be asthma and mimic asthma symptoms, your doctor will do a thorough exam and run any necessary tests to be sure your symptoms are due to asthma.

Conditions that can mimic asthma include:

  • Sinusitis: Also called a sinus infection; an inflammation or swelling of the sinuses. Sinusitis and asthma often coexist.
  • Myocardial ischemia: A disease of heart function characterized by inadequate blood flow to the muscle tissue of the heart. The main symptom of a heart attack is pain, but shortness of breath is another possible symptom of heart disease.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): A disorder in which stomach contents and acid flow back into the esophagus, causing frequent heartburn. Heartburn can cause asthma symptoms.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): A general term for several lung diseases, most commonly emphysema and chronic bronchitis, most commonly caused by cigarette smoking.
  • Congestive heart failure: A heart condition in which the heart does not pump correctly, leading to a buildup of fluid in the lungs. This can cause exercise intolerance and shortness of breath.
  • Bronchiectasis: Lung disease characterized by injury to the walls of the airways in the lungs; main cause is repeated infection.
  • Upper airflow obstruction: A condition in which the flow of air is blocked by something, including enlarged thyroid glands or tumors.
  • Vocal cord dysfunction: A condition in which the larynx (voice box) muscles close rapidly, causing difficulties in breathing.
  • Vocal cord paralysis: Loss of function of vocal cords.
  • Bronchogenic carcinoma:Lung cancer.
  • Aspiration: Accidentally breathing food or other matter into the lungs.
  • Pulmonary aspergillosis: Fungal infection of lung tissues.
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV): This virus can cause wheezing and pneumonia in children and may lead to childhood asthma.


How Are These Conditions Ruled Out and Asthma Correctly Diagnosed?

To make an asthma diagnosis and make sure your symptoms are not caused by another condition, your doctor will review your medical history, family history, and symptoms. He or she will be interested in any history of breathing problems you might have had, as well as a family history of asthma or other lung conditions, allergies, or a skin disease called eczema, which is related to allergies. It is important that you describe your symptoms in detail (coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness), including when and how often they occur.

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