Eastern Iowa hospitals try new treatment for severe asthma

Physicians gathering patients to receive new treatment

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Gloria Cervantes has been struggling with asthma for as long as she can remember. Her asthma has forced her to miss days at work, stay home from church and even refrain from going outside when it's too cold or windy or the pollen count is too high.

"It's hard for me to walk around sometimes," she said.

But a fairly new procedure called bronchial thermoplasty may help Cervantes cut down on the five medications she takes daily and give her a better quality of life.

In 2010, the Federal Drug Administration approved bronchial thermoplasty, a non-medicated treatment for adults with moderate to severe asthma. Doctors at UnityPoint Health- St. Luke's Hospital and Mercy Medical Center began offering the treatment this year.

During an asthma attack, the muscle that surrounds the airways in the lungs swells or constricts, narrowing the airways and making it difficult to breath. The environment is often the biggest trigger for those with asthma.

High humidity, severe cold, dust or pollen can all make breathing difficult.

"We use a small catheter and heat it up to 149 degrees — which is less warm than a cup of coffee — and apply it to the smooth-muscle (tissue)," said St. Luke's Dr. Muhammad Anwer, who performed his first procedure last week.

The application of heat reduces excess muscle and opens up the airways. This treatment is applied over three outpatient visits separated by about two weeks each, he said.

"It gets worse before it gets better," Anwer said. "Inflammation often occurs after the procedure, which can produce coughing or make you short of breath."

A clinical study found that 79 percent of patients treated with bronchial thermoplasty saw an improvement in their asthma quality of life. Additionally, 32 percent had fewer severe asthma attacks, 84 percent had fewer asthma-related emergency room visits and 66 percent lost fewer days from work, school or other activities.

Dr. Eduardo Celis, a pulmonologist at Mercy Pulmonology Clinic, participated in that study, performing the procedure on 20 patients in Detroit.

He hasn't performed bronchial thermoplasty on anyone in Cedar Rapids yet, but has admitted one patient and met with Cervantes on Wednesday to begin the necessary paperwork.

"This is about finding the right patient to get the right outcome," he said. "It's not aimed to cure asthma."

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