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Other Conditions With Symptoms Similar to Asthma

Many conditions may resemble asthma, making it difficult for doctors to be sure of a diagnosis of asthma. This may be especially true when evaluating whether a child has asthma or some other condition that causes similar symptoms.

In adults

In adults, other conditions that may cause symptoms similar to asthma include:

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  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Heart failure.
  • A blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism).
  • Problems with the throat (laryngeal dysfunction).
  • Mechanical obstruction, such as vocal cord paralysis or tumors.
  • Cough caused by taking medicines, such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors.
  • The uncontrolled closing of the vocal cords when breathing in (vocal cord dysfunction).
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
  • Upper respiratory diseases or conditions such as rhinitis or sinusitis, especially when they cause nighttime coughing.
  • Anxiety or panic attacks.

In children

In children, other conditions that may cause symptoms similar to asthma include:

  • Diseases of the respiratory system, such as allergies (allergic rhinitis), sinusitis, tuberculosis, or whooping cough (pertussis).
  • Obstructions in the large airways, such as a foreign object in the throat or enlarged lymph nodes in the neck.
  • Obstruction in the small airways, such as from viral bronchiolitis or cystic fibrosis.
  • Recurrent cough not caused by asthma.
  • Vocal cord dysfunction.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
  • Heart failure present at birth (congenital heart failure).
  • Airway abnormalities present at birth, such as when the tube that runs from the mouth to the stomach (esophagus) does not develop correctly (tracheoesophageal fistula).

Some people who have been diagnosed with asthma continue to have uncontrolled symptoms even with appropriate treatment. The continuation of symptoms may be caused by a person not following the asthma plan, not taking medicines as prescribed, or having another cause of his or her symptoms.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rohit K Katial, MD - Allergy and Immunology
Last Revised February 13, 2011

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 13, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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