Approximately 10% of adults who suffer from asthma are unable to control the disease properly through the use of medication. Even if they take their medicine as prescribed by their doctor, these sufferers know just how debilitating it could be to have uncontrolled asthma, which may lead to time off work and in some cases frequent visits to hospital emergency departments. Significantly, this small proportion of patients consumes more than 50% of asthma related healthcare resources.
Physician, Professor Keertan Dheda, Head of the Division of Pulmonology at University of Cape Town Medical School and Director of the Lung Infection and Immunity Unit at UCT Private Academic Hospital says unfortunately for many adult asthma sufferers, medication alone often does not offer a complete solution for this condition. Help is, however, available through a minimally invasive bronchoscopic procedure known as bronchial thermoplasty, indicates Prof Dheda.
“Few asthma sufferers are aware of bronchial thermoplasty, which is now offered jointly through UCT Private Academic and Groote Schuur hospitals. It is a highly effective treatment option that has been shown to improve the level of asthma control and the quality of life in patients with severe asthma. The procedure is for patients over 18 years of age who have asthma that is not controlled despite taking the medication prescribed by their asthma care physician,” Prof Dheda explains.
One clinical study indicated that the procedure resulted in an 84% reduction in visits to hospital emergency departments to seek treatment for respiratory distress. In another study, 79% of asthma patients reported a significant improvement in their quality of life compared to patients who did not undergo bronchial thermoplasty.
“Medication provides temporary relief to the symptoms of asthma by relaxing the constricted airways. Bronchial thermoplasty works in a completely different way, by using a catheter to deliver heat energy to reduce excess smooth muscle in the airways. This assists in providing long-term airways control,” Prof Dheda explains.
Bronchial thermoplasty is performed over three sessions of between 45 to 80 minutes each, by a physician trained in this procedure. These sessions are done approximately three weeks apart and each time different parts of the airways are treated. The doctor decides when the patient may be discharged but it is usually about two hours after the procedure.
Prof Dheda says bronchial thermoplasty is very safe but as with any procedure, it does have risks. One possible side effect is a temporary worsening of respiratory related symptoms, but this usually resolves within a few days of standard asthma care. The risk of this happening is small, there being a 3.4% chance that the person will need to be hospitalised as a result of these symptoms.
Prof Dheda emphasises that bronchial thermoplasty is a complementary treatment to current asthma medication, not an alternative. Patients must continue to take their medication and continue to have their asthma closely monitored by their doctor. The UCT Private Academic Hospital is the only accredited centre in the country to offer the procedure. Referrals may be done by contacting Prof Dheda at the email Keertan.email@example.com or telephone 021 4047650.
UCT Private Academic Hospital general manager, Liselle Shield, says uncontrollable asthma is a scourge to many South Africans and a burden on the economy. “Individuals who feel that they have run out of options will be greatly relieved to learn that there are additional treatments available today. Our hospital is proud to offer bronchial thermoplasty to people with uncontrolled asthma,” concludes Shield.
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