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Related Terms
  • Absence seizure, anticonvulsant, antiepileptic, atonic, aura, automatisms, carbohydrate, cerebral palsy, complex partial seizure, computed tomography, CT, déjà vu, EEG, electroencephalogram, electrolyte, febrile seizures, focal seizure, generalized seizure, grand mal seizure, hippocampus, hyperglycemia, hypoglycemia, hypoxia, hypsarrhythmia, ictus, idiopathic, irretractable seizure, Jacksonian epilepsy, ketogenic diet, ketone, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, magnetic resonance imaging, motor cortex, MRI, myoclonic seizure, narcolepsy, neurodegenerative, neurofibromatosis, neurological disorder, neurotransmitter, partial seizure, PET, petit mal seizure, Phenylketonuria, PKU, positron emission tomography, postictal, pseudoseizure, simple partial seizure, single photon emission computerized tomography, SPECT, status epilepticus, stroke, Sturge-Weber syndrome, sudden unexplained death in epilepsy, SUDEP, Tay-Sachs disease, temporal lobe seizure, tonic-clonic seizure, tuberous sclerosis, tumor, vagus nerve stimulation, vertigo, video-EEG, West syndrome.

Background
  • Epilepsy is a group of disorders characterized by recurrent seizures. In epilepsy, brain cells (neurons) create abnormal electricity that causes seizures or jerking movements. In some cases, seizures cause a loss of consciousness, a period of confusion, a staring spell, or muscle spasms.
  • A single seizure is not considered epilepsy. Individuals with epilepsy have repeated episodes of seizures. Different forms of epilepsy are either secondary to a particular brain abnormality or neurological disorder, or are said to be idiopathic (without any clear cause).
  • Normally, nerve transmission in the brain occurs in an orderly fashion, allowing a smooth flow of electrical activity. Neurons send messages using chemicals that cause an electrical signal to be produced. When a neuron is not sending a signal, it is "at rest." An action potentially occurs when a neuron sends information down an axon, away from the cell body.
  • A seizure occurs when these neurons generate electrical discharges that spread throughout the brain. This can occur with both normal and abnormal nerve cells.
  • Recurrent seizures or prolonged seizures can cause temporary or permanent damage to the brain and/or muscles. Seizures that last longer than 20-30 minutes can damage the brain's neurons.
  • Certain areas of the brain are more likely than others to be the source of a seizure. These include the motor cortex, which is responsible for the initiation of body movement, and the temporal lobes, which include the hippocampus (involved in memory) and are found deeper in the brain. The reason these structures are more susceptible to seizures may be that nerve cells in these areas are particularly sensitive to situations that can provoke abnormal electrical transmission, such as decreased oxygen levels, metabolic changes, stress, and infection. A seizure threshold is each individual's balance (probably genetically determined) between excitatory and inhibitory forces in the brain. The relative proportions of each determine whether a person has a low threshold for seizures (because of the higher excitatory balance) or a high threshold (because of greater inhibition). According to this view, a low seizure threshold makes it easier for epilepsy to develop and easier for someone to experience a single seizure.
  • A seizure is often divided into different stages. The aura is a period or warning prior to a seizure. Individuals may experience unusual smells, visual symptoms, or changes in bodily sensations. The seizure itself is known as the ictus. The period of time after the seizure is called the postictal state.
  • Seizure disorders are a common neurological problem. In the United States, it has been estimated that more than four million individuals have some form of epilepsy.
  • Epilepsy can affect individuals at any age.

Signs and symptoms
  • Seizures can affect any process the brain coordinates due to abnormal activity in brain cells. A seizure can produce temporary confusion, complete loss of consciousness, a staring spell, or uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs.
  • Symptoms vary depending on the type of seizure. In most cases, an individual with epilepsy will tend to have the same type of seizure each time, so the symptoms will be very similar from episode to episode, but some individuals have many different types of seizures, with different symptoms each time.
  • Doctors will classify seizures as either partial or generalized, based on how the abnormal brain activity begins. When seizures appear to result from abnormal activity in just one part of the brain, they are called partial or focal seizures. Seizures that seem to involve all of the brain are called generalized seizures. In some cases, seizures can begin in one part of the brain and then spread throughout the rest of the brain. Seizures may progress from partial to generalized.
  • Most individuals with epilepsy can lead outwardly normal lives. Currently, epilepsy cannot be cured. However, for some individuals epilepsy does eventually go away with age. Most seizures do not cause brain damage. It is not uncommon for individuals with epilepsy, especially children, to develop behavioral and emotional problems, sometimes the consequence of embarrassment and frustration or bullying, teasing, or avoidance in school and other social settings. For many individuals with epilepsy, the risk of seizures restricts their independence (some states refuse drivers licenses to people with epilepsy) and recreational activities. Individuals with epilepsy are at special risk for two life-threatening conditions: status epilepticus and sudden unexplained death. Most women with epilepsy can become pregnant, but they should discuss their epilepsy and the medications they are taking with their doctors. Infertility in women with epilepsy is rare. Women with epilepsy have a 90% or better chance of having a normal, healthy baby.
  • Partial seizures:
  • Simple partial seizures: Simple partial seizures do not result in loss of consciousness. These seizures may alter emotions or change the way things look, smell, feel, taste, or sound.
  • Complex partial seizures: Complex partial seizures alter consciousness, causing the individual to lose awareness for a period of time. Complex partial seizures often result in staring and non-purposeful movements, such as hand rubbing, lip smacking, arm positioning, vocalization, or swallowing.
  • Generalized seizures:
  • Generalized seizures involve epileptic activity in all or most of the brain.
  • Absence seizures (petit mal). Absence seizures are characterized by staring, subtle body movements, and brief lapses of awareness.
  • Myoclonic seizures: Myoclonic seizures usually appear as sudden jerks of the arms and legs.
  • Atonic seizures: Atonic seizures are also known as drop attacks and may cause the individual to suddenly collapse or fall down.
  • Tonic-clonic seizures (grand mal): Tonic-clonic seizures are the most common form of generalized seizures. They are also the most widely recognized epileptic seizure. In a tonic-clonic seizure, the person loses consciousness, the body stiffens, and then they fall to the ground. This is followed by jerking movements. After a minute or two, the jerking movements usually stop and consciousness slowly returns.

Diagnosis
  • Medical history:
  • Doctors will ask about the individual's history of seizures, along with other diseases, surgeries, and medications. A thorough history of recreational drug and alcohol use or abuse is equally important. It is helpful for the doctor to distinguish seizure subtypes, partial or generalized; time of day of the event, including whether the seizure occurred during wakefulness or sleep; and any known triggers, such as a flickering light, severe sleep deprivation, or dehydration.
  • Physical examination:
  • Doctors will perform a complete physical examination. A complete physical examination will include a neurological examination and brain function tests.
  • Diagnostic testing:
  • Laboratory data utilized in the diagnostic evaluation of patients with seizure disorders may include CT scan imaging, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and electroencephalograph (EEG). A complete blood panel, including drug-toxic screening and urinalysis are usually performed. Urine tests can determine if the individual is having a seizure due to illicit drug use, such as cocaine or methamphetamine. Blood tests will determine the basic functioning of the body, such as electrolyte (including sodium and potassium) levels and kidney and liver function.
  • A blood test that measures the hormone prolactin may be used to determine if a seizure was caused by epilepsy. The test, which must be used within 10-20 minutes after a seizure, measures levels of the hormone prolactin in the blood. Prolactin is produced by the pituitary gland, but an area of the brain called the hypothalamus controls its release. Researchers think that epileptic seizures affect the hypothalamus and may alter the release of prolactin, causing levels of the hormone to rise.
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG): An EEG records the electrical activity of the brain via electrodes. The electrodes are attached to the scalp. Individuals with epilepsy often have changes in the normal pattern of brain waves, even when they are not having a seizure.
  • To prepare for an EEG, healthcare professionals recommended that individuals avoid elaborate hair styling, metallic hair spray, or greasy hair products. The individual should refrain from caffeine for six hours before the test. The procedure itself is painless and usually lasts about 30 minutes. However, it can take as long as an hour to place the electrodes on the scalp properly.
  • Video-EEG monitoring may also be used in some individuals as a diagnostic tool while they are having a seizure. Video monitoring can be helpful because it allows the doctor to compare the behaviors that occur during a seizure with an EEG pattern from the same time. Knowing where the seizure originates in the brain helps the doctor in treating the condition. Individuals undergoing video-EEG may be required to stay in a hospital or clinic for several days. The individual is monitored on video constantly during this time. The EEG electrodes stay attached for the entire time, which may cause discomfort in some individuals.
  • Computerized tomography (CT): Computerized tomography, or CT, uses special x-ray equipment to produce images of body structure. CT machines obtain images from many different angles and join them together to show cross-sectional images of the brain and skull. CT scans can reveal abnormalities in brain structure including tumors, cysts, strokes, or tangled blood vessels. This helps the doctor rule out other potential causes of the individual's seizures.
  • To prepare for a CT scan of the head, individuals should remove such things as earrings, eyeglasses, dentures, and hairpins. An intravenous (IV) line may be inserted into a vein if the test requires the injection of a contrast material, which makes abnormalities easier to see. During the test, the individual will lie on a table that slides into the CT machine. Depending on the number of images needed, the scan can take between two and 20 minutes. The procedure is painless, but some individuals may experience discomfort or claustrophobia while having to sit still.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) device uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to produce detailed images of the brain. Like CT scans, MRIs can reveal brain abnormalities that could be causing seizures. Dental fillings and braces may distort the images.
  • During the test, the individual will lie on a padded table that slides into the MRI machine. The head will be immobilized in a brace to improve precision. The test is painless, but some individuals experience an uncomfortable feeling similar to claustrophobia inside the MRI device's close quarters. Sedative medications, such as alprazolam (Xanax®), can be given to sensitive individuals.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET): Positron emission tomography (PET) scans use injected radioactive material to help visualize active areas of the brain. After the radioactive material is injected into a vein, it will take 3-90 minutes for the substance to accumulate in the brain tissue. During this waiting period, the individual will be asked to rest quietly and not talk or move around much. The actual scan takes 30-45 minutes. The amount of radioactive material used in the test is very small.
  • Single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT): Single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT) is used primarily in individuals being evaluated for epilepsy surgery when the area of seizure onset is unclear on MRIs or EEGs. SPECT imaging requires two scans, one during a seizure and one 24 hours later. Radioactive material is injected for both scans and then the two results are compared.
  • Conditions resembling seizure disorders: Seizure disorders must be differentiated from a variety of problems whose symptoms approximate or closely resemble those of epilepsy. These include cerebrovascular (stroke-related) disorders, migraine, narcolepsy (a neurological condition with uncontrollable sleep attacks and persistent daytime sleepiness), syncope (fainting), and anxiety.
  • A pseudoseizure, or more properly a non-epileptogenic seizure, may also occur. These "spells" are not triggered by nerve cell discharges that cause true epilepsy, although the individual may experience muscle twitching and even apparent loss of consciousness. These spells have a psychiatric component and often coexist in persons who have epilepsy with true seizures. EEG monitoring can help distinguish disorders that mimic epilepsy from true seizures.

Complications
  • Injury: If an individual falls during a seizure, they may sustain a head injury. Drowning is a risk if the individual has a seizure while swimming or bathing.
  • Loss of consciousness and awareness: A seizure that causes either loss of awareness or control can be dangerous if the individual is driving a car or operating other equipment. Medications used to control seizures also can cause drowsiness, which may affect the individual's driving ability. Many states have licensing restrictions related to the individual's ability to control seizures.
  • Pregnancy: Seizures during pregnancy pose dangers to both mother and baby and certain anti-epileptic medications increase the risk of birth defects. A doctor will advise an individual with epilepsy who is considering becoming pregnant. Most women with epilepsy can become pregnant and have a healthy baby, but many need to adjust their medications and be carefully monitored throughout pregnancy.
  • Life-threatening complications: Life-threatening complications from epilepsy are uncommon, but do occur. Individuals who have severe, prolonged, or continuous seizures (status epilepticus) are at increased risk of permanent brain damage and death. Individuals with epilepsy, particularly those with poorly controlled epilepsy, also have a small risk of a condition called sudden unexplained death in epilepsy (SUDEP). The risk of SUDEP increases if the individual is having seizures at an early age, has frequent seizures that involve more than one area of the brain, or continues to have seizures despite treatment with medications.

Treatment
  • Anticonvulsant medications:
  • Anticonvulsant, or antiepileptic, medications are the treatment of choice for epilepsy and seizure disorders. Treatment options with anticonvulsants are evaluated initially based on seizure subtype, as certain anticonvulsants may be used for treating some forms of epilepsy. When making decisions about treatment with a particular agent, the doctor will take into account the patient's entire medical and medication histories, age, and gender as well as the side-effect profile of the medicine. Anticonvulsants are generally given life-long.
  • Treatment with one anticonvulsant drug, called monotherapy, is the goal. Seizures can be controlled with one agent in approximately 75% of individuals with epilepsy. It is very important for individuals with epilepsy and seizure disorders to take their medications as prescribed. For medications to work effectively, a relatively constant level of medication must be maintained in the body. This is accomplished by taking medication regularly as directed, without missing doses. The consequences of missed doses may be a single seizure, more devastating multiple seizures, or status epilepticus.
  • Phenytoin: Phenytoin (Dilantin®) has been used as an anticonvulsant medication for seizures since the late 1930s. Phenytoin is thought to suppress electrical activity in brain nerve cells, helping to control seizures. It can be given orally or intravenously (IV) and a newer form of the drug, fosphenytoin (Cerebyx®), can be injected into muscle.
  • Phenytoin is used in treating partial and generalized tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures. Phenytoin is used with individuals with status epilepticus, although benzodiazepine drugs, such as diazepam (Valium®), are the drugs of choice for this condition. Phenytoin drug levels are monitored closely with laboratory testing, as altered levels of phenytoin may cause side effects such as lethargy and weakness. In addition, liver function testing and a complete blood count (CBC) need to be followed. Phenytoin has many interactions with other medications, and its own level can fluctuate when other drugs are taken.
  • Some of the side effects associated with phenytoin use include gingival hyperplasia (overgrowth of the gums), hirsuitism/hypertrichosis (excessive hair growth), imbalance, lethargy, anemia, and, in long-term use, peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage causing weakness).
  • Carbamazepine: Carbamazepine (Tegretol® or Carbatrol®) is commonly prescribed for the treatment of partial and generalized tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures. Carbamazepine levels are followed closely with laboratory testing. Liver function tests and complete blood count (CBC) are also checked routinely. Carbamazepine can affect the levels of a number of other drugs in the body, and its own level can fluctuate when other agents are taken.
  • Side effects include drowsiness, imbalance, nausea, anemia, neutropenia (a low white blood cell count), and agranulocytosis (a lack of white blood cells).
  • Phenobarbital: Phenobarbital is a barbiturate medication that is used to treat both partial and generalized seizures. Phenobarital, or phenobarb, is available in oral and intravenous forms. Blood levels are monitored closely. A complete blood analysis and liver function tests are also routinely monitored. Phenobarbital can cause changes in the metabolism of other drugs through its actions on liver enzymes. Side effects may include drowsiness, cognitive impairment, and irritability.
  • Valproic acid: Valproic acid (Depakene®, Depakote®) is used for partial seizures, generalized tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures, absence (petit mal), and myoclonic epilepsy. Valproic acid seems to affect the brain with a neurotransmitter known as GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA inhibits the excitation of nerve cells in the brain. Drug levels are monitored closely. A complete blood analysis and liver function tests are also routinely monitored. Side effects include hepatotoxicity (liver damage), nausea, weight gain, alopecia (hair loss), and tremor.
  • Topiramate: Tomipramate (Topamax®) is used with other anticonvulsant drugs in the treatment of partial seizures and generalized tonic-clonic seizures in adults and children aged 2-16. Although its precise mechanism of action is unknown, one theory suggests that its anticonvulsant activity may be due in part to increasing GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). Side effects include drowsiness, nausea, dizziness, and coordination problems. Children may have difficulty concentrating and may become aggressive.
  • Gabapentin: Gabapentin (Neurontin®) is indicated for the treatment of partial seizures, with or without secondary generalization. The precise mechanism of action is unknown. No laboratory monitoring of liver, kidney, or hematologic (blood) function is usually necessary with gabapentin. The major side effects are drowsiness, fatigue, dizziness, and imbalance. Gabapentin has also been used successfully in individuals with neuropathic pain syndromes. When an individual begins therapy with gabapentin, it is recommended by healthcare professionals to use caution when driving or operating heavy machinery until drowsiness and fatigue subsides, which make take 2-4 weeks.
  • Lamotrigine: Lamotrigine (Lamictal®) is used in the treatment of partial seizures. The precise mechanism of action is unknown. No laboratory monitoring of lamotrigine levels are usually necessary. The major side effect is the appearance of a potentially life-threatening skin rash (called Stevens-Johnson syndrome), particularly for patients who also are taking valproic acid (Depakote®). Any individuals taking lamotrigine who develops a rash should immediately report it to a doctor. Other side effects include headache, nausea, and dizziness.
  • Tiagabine: Tiagabine (Gabitril®) is used in adults with partial seizures. Its mechanism of action may be related to its effect on GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). No laboratory monitoring of tiagabine levels are usually necessary. Some interaction likely exists when tiagabine is taken with other anticonvulsants, in that its metabolism may be altered. Side effects include dizziness and somnolence.
  • Levetiracetam: Levetiracetam (Keppra®) is used in adults along with other anticonvulsants as treatment for partial seizure disorders. The side effects can include fatigue, imbalance, and behavioral changes, which often dissipate after the first month of treatment.
  • Oxacarbazine: Oxcarbazepine (Trileptal®) is used alone in adults who have partial seizures and can be used in children for partial seizures. Oxacarbazine is usually taken with other anticonvulsant medications for seizure control. The most common side effects include dizziness, sleepiness, nausea, and imbalance.
  • Zonisamide: Zonisamide (Zonegran®) is approved for use in adults as adjunctive therapy for partial seizures. It has been used fairly extensively in other countries for use in other seizure types including generalized seizures, myoclonic seizures, and absence seizures. Side effects can include dizziness, imbalance, and fatigue. Individuals who are allergic to sulfonamide (sulfa) drugs should not use zonisamide.
  • Benzodiazepines: Benzodiazepines belong to the group of medicines called central nervous system (CNS) depressants (medicines that slow down the nervous system). Most benzodiazepines are used to relieve anxiety and insomnia (lack of sleep). Clonazepam (Klonopin®), clorazepate (Tranxene®), diazepam (Valium®), and lorazepam (Ativan®) are used in the treatment of status epilepticus. Benzodiazepines may cause drowsiness and sedation. Benzodiazepines also have the potential for abuse and may cause physical addiction.
  • Other conventional treatments:
  • Ketogenic diet: A ketogenic diet is a diet high in fat content and is usually reserved for epilepsy patients that have tried two anti-convulsant medications without relief from seizures. Ketogenic diets seem to alter brain function and decrease seizure activity.
  • The goal of the diet is to get the body to produce ketones, which cause the body to use fat instead of glucose for energy. Ketone bodies are compounds that are produced as by-products when fatty acids are broken down for energy.
  • If carbohydrates (which are composed of sugars) are eliminated from the diet, and a diet very high in fat is substituted, the body has no dietary sources of glucose. In the event of low blood glucose, most other tissues have additional energy sources besides ketone bodies (such as fatty acids) but the brain does not. After the diet has been changed to lower blood glucose for three days, the brain gets 30% of its energy from ketone bodies. After four days, this goes up to 70%.
  • As a result, ketones are made from the available sources and these are used as fuel instead. Even a very small amount of sugar can cause the body to shift to glucose production and use, which it prefers to ketones. For example, this restriction is such that children on the diet have to be careful to take sugarless daily multivitamins. Some children with epilepsy have been helped by adopting a rigid diet that is high in fat and protein and low in carbohydrates.
  • Elevated levels of ketones in the body of individuals with epilepsy may be associated with seizure control and seizure freedom.
  • Surgery: Surgical removal of areas of the brain where partial seizures are occurring is used when seizure activity fails to respond to even the most aggressive medical anticonvulsant therapies. Patients considered for these procedures are those with intractable seizures, even when given high levels of anticonvulsant drugs. During the procedure, the surgeon makes an incision in the scalp and removes a piece of the skull bone. The area(s) responsible for seizure activity are then removed. Some individuals will be able to reduce the medications after the surgery. In some cases, surgery for epilepsy can cause complications such as permanently altering cognitive abilities. It is important to discuss all options with a doctor.
  • Vagus nerve stimulation: The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve controlling muscles involved with swallowing, speaking, and coughing. The nerve is also involved with receiving input from and sending information about the heart, stomach, and lungs to the brain. A device called a vagus nerve stimulator is implanted into the chest under the collarbone. Wires from the stimulator are wrapped around the vagus nerve in the neck. The device turns on and off according to an adjustable program. The device has been reported to reduce seizures by about 20-40%. Most individuals still need to take anticonvulsant medication, but a reduction in dosage is possible.

Integrative therapies
  • Good scientific evidence:
  • Boswellia: Boswellia has been proposed as a potential therapy for asthma. Future studies are needed to assess the long-term efficacy and safety of boswellia and to compare the efficacy of boswellia to standard therapies. Boswellia should not be used for the relief of acute asthma exacerbations. Boswellia is generally believed to be safe when used as directed, although safety and toxicity have not been well studied in humans. Avoid if allergic to boswellia. Avoid with a history of stomach ulcers or stomach acid reflux disease (GERD). Use cautiously if taking lipid-soluble medications, agents metabolized by the liver's cytochrome P450 enzymes, or sedatives. Use cautiously with impaired liver function or liver damage or lung disorders. Use cautiously in children. Avoid if pregnant due to potential abortifacient effects or if breastfeeding.
  • Buteyko breathing technique: The Buteyko breathing technique (BBT) consists of breathing techniques, relaxation exercises, and asthma education. The technique aims to reduce hyperventilation. Studies have shown reduced use of rescue inhalers among patients receiving BBT. Improvements in other measures of asthma severity have not been shown. Additional study is warranted.
  • BBT is generally considered safe. Avoid with asthma that changes suddenly ("brittle asthma"). BBT may interact with asthma medications and should be used with caution when decreasing asthma medication. Asthma should be treated by a qualified healthcare professional and patients should always carry a rescue inhaler. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Choline: Choline is possibly effective when taken orally for asthma. Choline supplements seem to decrease the severity of symptoms, number of symptomatic days and the need to use bronchodilators in asthma patients. There is some evidence that higher doses of 3 grams daily might be more effective than lower doses of 1.5 grams daily. Choline is generally regarded as safe and appears to be well-tolerated. Avoid if allergic/hypersensitive to choline, lecithin, or phosphatidylcholine. Use cautiously with kidney or liver disorders or trimethylaminuria. Use cautiously with a history of depression. If pregnant or breastfeeding it seems generally safe to consume choline within the recommended adequate intake (AI) parameters; supplementation outside of dietary intake is usually not necessary if a healthy diet is consumed.
  • Coleus: There is a lack of sufficient data to recommend for or against the use of coleus in the treatment of bronchial asthma. Preliminary data appears to be promising. However, larger, randomized, controlled trials are needed to confirm the safety and efficacy of coleus in bronchial asthma. Coleus is generally regarded as safe, as very few reports have documented adverse effects. However, only a few short-term trials have assessed its safety in a small sample size of patients. Avoid if allergic to Coleus forskohlii and related species or with bleeding disorders. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Ephedra: Ephedra contains the chemicals ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, which are bronchodilators (expand the airways to assist in easier breathing). It has been used and studied to treat asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, such as asthmatic bronchoconstriction, in both children and adults. Other treatments such as beta-agonist inhalers (for example, albuterol) are more commonly recommended due to safety concerns with ephedra or ephedrine. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has collected thousands of reports of serious toxicity linked to ephedra (including over 100 deaths). Ephedra products are banned from dietary supplements because of serious health risks, including heart attack, heart damage, breathing difficulties and fluid retention in the lungs. Avoid ephedra if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Psychotherapy: Family psychotherapy may slightly improve wheezing and thoracic gas volume for asthma in children, according to several studies.
  • Psychotherapy is not always sufficient to resolve mental or emotional conditions. Psychiatric medication is sometimes needed. The reluctance to seek and use appropriate medication may contribute to worsening of symptoms or increased risk for poor outcomes. In order to be successful, psychotherapy requires considerable personal motivation and investment in the process. This includes consistent attendance and attention to treatment recommendations provided by the practitioner. Not all therapists are sufficiently qualified to work with all problems. The client or patient should seek referrals from trusted sources and should also inquire of the practitioner's training and background before committing to work with a particular therapist. Some forms of psychotherapy evoke strong emotional feelings and expression. This can be disturbing for people with serious mental illness or some medical conditions. Psychotherapy may help with post-partum depression, but is not a substitute for medication, which may be needed in severe cases.
  • Pycnogenol: Pycnogenol® is the patented trade name for a water extract of the bark of the French maritime pine (Pinus pinaster spp. atlantica), which is grown in coastal south-west France. Pycnogenol may offer clinical benefit to both children and adults with asthma. Additional study is needed before a conclusion can be made. Avoid if allergic/hypersensitive to pycnogenol, its components, or members of the Pinaceae family. Use cautiously with diabetes, hypoglycemia, or bleeding disorders. Use cautiously if taking hypolipidemics, medications that may increase the risk of bleeding, hypertensive medications, or immune stimulating or inhibiting drugs. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Yoga: Multiple human studies report benefits of yoga (such as breathing exercises), when added to other treatments for mild-to-moderate asthma (such as standard drug therapy, diet, or massage). Better research is needed before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
  • Yoga is generally considered to be safe in healthy individuals when practiced appropriately. Avoid some inverted poses with disc disease of the spine, fragile or atherosclerotic neck arteries, risk for blood clots, extremely high or low blood pressure, glaucoma, detachment of the retina, ear problems, severe osteoporosis, or cervical spondylitis. Certain yoga breathing techniques should be avoided in people with heart or lung disease. Use cautiously with a history of psychotic disorders. Yoga techniques are believed to be safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding when practiced under the guidance of expert instruction (the popular Lamaze techniques are based on yogic breathing). However, poses that put pressure on the uterus, such as abdominal twists, should be avoided in pregnancy.
  • Unclear or conflicting scientific evidence:
  • Acupressure, shiatsu: Preliminary research suggests that acupressure may be of benefit in improving quality of life in asthma. Further well-designed studies are needed before firm conclusions can be drawn. A combination of acupressure and massage may reduce dyspnea (labored breathing) and anxiety in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who use prolonged mechanical ventilatory support. Further study of acupressure alone is needed before a recommendation can be made. A small study of patients undergoing pulmonary rehabilitation reported acupressure to be beneficial for decreasing dyspnea. Larger, well-designed studies are needed before clear conclusions can be drawn.
  • With proper training, acupressure appears to be safe if self-administered or administered by an experienced therapist. No serious long-term complications have been reported, according to scientific data. Hand nerve injury and herpes zoster ("shingles") cases have been reported after shiatsu massage. Forceful acupressure may cause bruising.
  • Acupuncture: Some research suggests acupuncture may help prevent exercise-induced asthma and that it may reduce the perceived level of breathlessness associated with asthma or emphysema. However, reviewers agree that the available studies are small, poorly designed, and insufficient for making recommendations. A few studies have found no support for the use of acupuncture for asthma. Overall there is insufficient evidence on which to base recommendations for acupuncture to treat breathlessness in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Needles must be sterile in order to avoid disease transmission. Avoid with valvular heart disease, infections, bleeding disorders or with drugs that increase the risk of bleeding (anticoagulants), medical conditions of unknown origin, neurological disorders. Avoid on areas that have received radiation therapy and during pregnancy. Use cautiously with pulmonary disease (like asthma or emphysema). Use cautiously in elderly or medically compromised patients, diabetics, or with history of seizures. Avoid electroacupuncture with arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) or in patients with pacemakers.
  • Alexander technique: The Alexander technique is an educational program that teaches movement patterns and postures, with an aim to improve coordination and balance, reduce tension, relieve pain, alleviate fatigue, improve various medical conditions, and promote well-being. There is currently not enough scientific evidence to make a strong recommendation for the use of the Alexander technique in chronic asthma patients. More study is needed in this area. There is a lack of high-quality research describing the effect of the Alexander technique on respiration. No serious side effects have been reported with use of the Alexander technique. It has been suggested that the technique may be less effective with learning disabilities or mental illnesses. The Alexander technique has been used safely in pregnant women.
  • Applied kinesiology: Applied Kinesiology (AK) is an assessment technique that uses muscle strength testing with the aim to identify nutritional deficiencies and health problems. It is based on the concept that weakness in certain muscles corresponds to specific disease states or body imbalances. Study results are mixed in regards to bronchial asthma. Further research is needed before conclusions can be drawn. Applied kinesiology techniques in themselves are harmless. However, medical conditions should not be treated with AK alone, and should not delay appropriate medical treatment.
  • Aromatherapy: Early evidence suggests that aromatherapy may aid mucus clearance in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). More studies are needed before conclusions about this application of aromatherapy can be made. Essential oils should be administered in a carrier oil to avoid toxicity. Avoid if history of allergic dermatitis. Use cautiously if driving/operating heavy machinery. Avoid consuming essential oils. Avoid direct contact of undiluted oils with mucous membranes. Use cautiously if pregnant.
  • Ayurveda: There is early evidence that daily supplementation with gum resin of Boswellia serrata, known in Ayurveda as Salai guggal, may reduce dyspnea (shortness of breath), rhonchi, and the number of attacks in bronchial asthma. Another herb, Devadaru (Cedrus deodara), may have antispasmodic effects and reduce symptoms in bronchial asthma, particularly for patients with shorter histories of asthma and lower frequencies of attacks. Further research is needed in this area before a recommendation can be made.
  • Ayurvedic herbs should be used cautiously because they are potent and some constituents can be potentially toxic if taken in large amounts or for a long time. Some herbs imported from India have been reported to contain high levels of toxic metals. Ayurvedic herbs can interact with other herbs, foods and drugs. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before use of any herbs or supplements. Use guggul cautiously with peptic ulcer disease. Avoid sour food, alcohol, and heavy exercise. Mahayograj guggul should not be taken for long periods of time. Pippali (Piper longum) should be taken with milk and avoided with asthma. Avoid sweet flag, and avoid amlaki (Emblica officinalis) at bedtime. Avoid Terminalia hebula (harda) if pregnant. Avoid Ayurveda with traumatic injuries, acute pain, advanced disease stages and medical conditions that require surgery.
  • Belladonna: Belladonna may improve the prevention of airway obstruction and reduce the amount of mucus produced. However, due to a lack of high-quality human research in this area, there is not enough evidence to form a clear conclusion.
  • Avoid if allergic to belladonna or plants of the Solanaceae(nightshade) family (bell peppers, potatoes, eggplants). Avoid with history of heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attack, abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia), congestive heart failure, stomach ulcer, constipation, stomach acid reflux (serious heartburn), hiatal hernia, gastrointestinal disease, ileostomy, colostomy, fever, bowel obstruction, benign prostatic hypertrophy, urinary retention, glaucoma (narrow angle), psychotic illness, Sjögren's syndrome, dry mouth (xerostomia or salivary gland disorders), neuromuscular disorders such as myasthenia gravis, and Down's syndrome. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Beta-carotene: The prevalence of bronchitis and shortness of breath in male smokers with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) seems to be lower in those patients who consume a diet containing high amounts of beta-carotene. However, beta-carotene supplements have not been proven to benefit COPD and may actually increase cancer rates in smokers. Based on preliminary evidence, taking a mixture of beta-carotene isomers orally may prevent exercise-induced asthma. However, because synthetic beta-carotene has not been well tested for this indication, the difference between the activities of the two supplements cannot be deduced. Further research is needed before a strong recommendation can be made. Avoid if sensitive to beta-carotene, vitamin A or any other ingredients in beta-carotene products.
  • Black tea: Research has shown caffeine to cause improvements in airflow to the lungs (bronchodilation). However, it is not clear if caffeine or tea use has significant clinical benefits in people with asthma. Better research is needed in this area before a conclusion can be drawn.
  • Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to caffeine or tannins. Skin rash and hives have been reported with caffeine ingestion. Use caution with diabetes. Use caution if pregnant. Heavy caffeine intake during pregnancy may increase the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Very high doses of caffeine have been linked with birth defects. Caffeine is transferred into breast milk. Caffeine ingestion by infants can lead to sleep disturbances/insomnia. Infants nursing from mothers consuming greater than 500 milligrams of caffeine daily have been reported to experience tremors and heart rhythm abnormalities. Tea consumption by infants has been linked to anemia, decreased iron metabolism, and irritability.
  • Borage seed oil: The flowers and leaves of borage (Borago officinalis) are often pressed to produce oil very high in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Preliminary evidence suggests that gamma linolenic acid (GLA) may have some immunosuppressant activity that may be helpful in reducing asthma symptoms. Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to borage, its constituents, or members of the Boraginaceae family. Use cautiously in patients with bleeding disorders or taking warfarin or other anticoagulant or antiplatelet (blood thinning) agents. Use cautiously in patients with epilepsy or taking anticonvulsants. Avoid in patients with compromised immune systems or similar immunological conditions. Avoid in pregnant patients as borage oil may be contraindicated in pregnancy given the teratogenic and labor-inducing effects of prostaglandin E agonists, such as borage oil's GLA. Avoid if breastfeeding.
  • Bromelain: Bromelain is a digestive enzyme extracted from the stem and the fruit of the pineapple plant (Ananas comosus, family Bromeliaceae). There is currently not enough information to recommend for or against the use of bromelain in chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). Avoid if allergic to bromelain, pineapple, honeybee, venom, latex, birch pollen, carrots, celery, fennel, cypress pollen, grass pollen, papain, rye flour, wheat flour, or other members of the Bromeliaceaefamily. Use cautiously with a history of bleeding disorders, stomach ulcers, heart disease, liver, or kidney disease. Use caution before dental or surgical procedures or while driving or operating machinery. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Butterbur: Historically, butterbur has been used to treat asthma. Pre-clinical studies report anti-inflammatory and leukotriene inhibitory properties, which may lead to clinical effects. Initial human research suggests possible benefits. However, controlled trials with adequate sample sizes are necessary in order to clarify whether there are true benefits in humans. Use caution if allergic or sensitive to Petasites hybridus or other plants from the Asteraceae/Compositae family (like ragweed, marigolds, daisies, and chrysanthemums). Raw, unprocessed butterbur plant should not be eaten due to the risk of liver or kidney damage or cancer. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Chiropractic: Several studies report the effects of chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy on breathing indices and quality of life in children and adults with asthma. Results are variable, and in the studies with positive results, mostly subjective but not objective (lung function test) changes are reported. Due to methodological problems and variable results, no clear conclusions can be drawn in this area. There is not enough reliable scientific evidence to conclude the effects of chiropractic techniques in the management of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD).
  • Use extra caution during cervical adjustments. Use cautiously with acute arthritis, conditions that cause decreased bone mineralization, brittle bone disease, bone softening conditions, bleeding disorders, or migraines. Use cautiously with the risk of tumors or cancers. Avoid with symptoms of vertebrobasilar vascular insufficiency, aneurysms, unstable spondylolisthesis, or arthritis. Avoid with agents that increase the risk of bleeding. Avoid in areas of para-spinal tissue after surgery. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding due to a lack of scientific data.
  • Coenzyme Q10: CoQ10 may benefit asthma patients when added to other therapies. Further research is needed. Asthma should be treated by a qualified healthcare provider. Allergy has not been associated with Coenzyme Q10 supplements, although rash and itching have been reported rarely. Stop use two weeks before surgery/dental/diagnostic procedures with bleeding risk and do not use immediately after these procedures. Use caution with a history of blood clots, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, or stroke, or with anticoagulants (blood thinners) or antiplatelet drugs, or blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, or thyroid drugs. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Coleus: Coleus species have been used in the Asian traditional medicine to treat angina, asthma, bronchitis, epilepsy, insomnia, skin rashes, and a wide range of digestive problems. Pretreatment with coleus may be beneficial as a breathing aid for intubation, especially for middle-aged smokers. More research is needed.
  • Coleus is generally regarded as safe, as very few reports have documented adverse effects. However, only a few short-term trials have assessed its safety in a small sample size of patients. Avoid if allergic to Coleus forskohlii and related species or with bleeding disorders. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Cordyceps: Cordyceps may reduce some asthma symptoms. Additional studies are needed to make a firm recommendation. There is currently insufficient evidence from clinical study to draw a conclusion on the use of cordyceps for other respiratory disorders.
  • Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to cordyceps, mold, or fungi. Use cautiously with diabetes or bleeding disorders or if taking anticoagulant medications. Use cautiously with prostate conditions, if taking immunosuppressive medications, or if on hormonal replacement therapy or oral contraceptives. Avoid with myelogenous-type cancers. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Creatine: It is unclear if creatine may help treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Study results are mixed. More clinical trials are needed before a conclusion can be made. Avoid if allergic to creatine or with diuretics (like hydrochlorothiazide, furosemide (Lasix®)). Use caution in asthma, diabetes, gout, kidney, liver or muscle problems, stroke or a history of these conditions. Avoid dehydration. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Danshen: Danshen (Salvia miltiorrhiza) is widely used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), often in combination with other herbs. Better studies are needed in which danshen is compared with more proven treatments for asthmatic bronchitis before a clear conclusion can be drawn.
  • Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to danshen. Use cautiously with altered immune states, arrhythmia, compromised liver function or a history of glaucoma, stroke, or ulcers. Stop use two weeks before surgery/dental/diagnostic procedures with bleeding risk, and do not use immediately after these procedures. Use cautiously if driving or operating heavy machinery. Avoid if taking blood thinners (anticoagulants), digoxin or hypotensives including ACE inhibitors such as captopri, or Sophora subprostrata root or herba serissae. Avoid with bleeding disorders, low blood pressure and following cerebal ischemia. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • English ivy: Currently, there is insufficient available information to recommend for or against the use of English ivy in treating asthma in children or in treating chronic obstructive pulmonary disease COPD). Additional study is needed.
  • Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to English ivy (Hedera helix), its constituents, or members of the Araliaceae family. In addition, crossreaction or cross-senstivity has been noted between Hedera helix and Dendropanax trifidus, Schefflera arboricola, dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), false ragweed (Ambrosia acanthicarpa), giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida), short ragweed (Ambrosia artemisifolia), sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), wild feverfew (Parthenium hysterophorus), yarrow (Achillea millifolium), and tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), and some Dahlia species. Use cautiously with cancer or taking antineoplastic (anticancer) agents. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Eucalyptus oil: Further research is needed to confirm anti-inflammatory and mucolytic activity of eucalyptus oil before it can be recommended in upper and lower airway diseases, such as asthma. Avoid if allergic to eucalyptus oil or with a history of seizure, diabetes, asthma, heart disease, abnormal heart rhythms, intestinal disorders, liver disease, kidney disease, or lung disease. Use caution if driving or operating machinery. Avoid with a history of acute intermittent porphyria. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding. A strain of bacteria found on eucalyptus may cause infection. Toxicity has been reported with oral and inhaled use.
  • Gingko: Ginkgo biloba has been used medicinally for thousands of years and is currently one of the top selling herbs in the United States. Ginkgo may reduce symptoms in patients with asthma. More study is needed to make a conclusion. Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to members of the Ginkgoaceaefamily. If allergy to mango rind, sumac, poison ivy or oak or cashews exists, then allergy to ginkgo is possible. Avoid with blood-thinners (like aspirin or warfarin (Coumadin®)) due to an increased risk of bleeding. Ginkgo should be stopped two weeks before surgical procedures. Ginkgo seeds are dangerous and should be avoided. Skin irritation and itching may also occur due to ginkgo allergies. Do not use ginkgo in supplemental doses if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Ginseng: Limited research suggests that ginseng has positive effects on breathing, such as its proposed role as a bronchodilator. Ginseng was reported to improve lung function and exercise capacity in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease COPD). Several studies have also looked at the effects of ginseng in a variety of lung conditions. Early results are promising, but many studies have used combination products, making it difficult to evaluate the effect of ginseng. More research using ginseng alone is needed in this area. Avoid ginseng with a known allergy to plants in the Araliaceae family. There has been a report of a serious life-threatening skin reaction, possibly caused by contaminants in ginseng formulations.
  • Goji: In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), herbs are almost always administered in combination formulas consisting of several herbs that balance each other's effects and enhance the success of the treatment. A case study provides some initial objective data on the formula "Invigorating Kidney," which includes wolfberry together with six other herbs. This herbal decoction showed that it may be possible to reverse airway obstruction for patients convalescing from asthma.
  • Use cautiously in patients who are taking blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin. Use cautiously in asthma patients and in patients with sulfite sensitivities. The New York Department of Agriculture has detected the presence of undeclared sulfites, a food additive, in two dried goji berry products from China. Avoid in patients who are allergic to goji, any of its constituents, or to members of the Solanaceae family.
  • Green tea: Research has shown caffeine to cause improvements in airflow to the lungs (bronchodilation). However, it is not clear if caffeine or tea use has significant benefits in people with asthma. Better research is needed in this area before a conclusion can be drawn. Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to caffeine or tannins. Use cautiously with diabetes or liver disease.
  • Green-lipped mussel: Limited evidence suggests that green-lipped mussel supplementation may help allergic diseases, such as atopic asthma. Additional research is needed before a recommendation can be made. Green-lipped mussel is generally considered safe. Use cautiously with anti-inflammatory agents. Use cautiously with asthma. Avoid in patients with liver disease. Avoid with allergy or sensitivity to green-lipped mussel or other shellfish. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Guided imagery: A small study reports increased outcomes of relaxation in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) with use of guided imagery techniques. Additional research is needed to confirm these results. Guided imagery is usually intended to supplement medical care, not to replace it, and guided imagery should not be relied on as the sole therapy for a medical problem. Contact a qualified health care provider if mental or physical health is unstable or fragile. Never use guided imagery techniques while driving or doing any other activity that requires strict attention. Use cautiously with physical symptoms that can be brought about by stress, anxiety, or emotional upset because imagery may trigger these symptoms. If feeling unusually anxious while practicing guided imagery, or with a history of trauma or abuse, speak with a qualified health care provider before practicing guided imagery.
  • Hydrotherapy: There is preliminary evidence that daily breathing exercises in a warm pool may improve lung function measurements in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It is not clear if this technique is superior to breathing exercises alone. Evidence from controlled trials is necessary before a clear conclusion can be drawn.
  • Avoid sudden or prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures in baths, wraps, saunas, or other forms of hydrotherapy, particularly with heart disease, lung disease, or if pregnant. Avoid with implanted medical devices like pacemakers, defibrillators, or hepatic (liver) infusion pumps. Vigorous use of water jets should be avoided with fractures, known blood clots, bleeding disorders, severe osteoporosis, open wounds, or during pregnancy. Use cautiously with Raynaud's disease, chilblains, acrocyanosis, erythrocyanosis, and impaired temperature sensitivity, such as neuropathy. Use cautiously if pregnant or breastfeeding. Hydrotherapy should not delay the time to diagnosis or treatment with more proven techniques or therapies, and should not be used as the sole approach to illnesses. Patients with known illnesses should consult their physician(s) before starting hydrotherapy.
  • Hypnotherapy, hypnosis: Preliminary research for the use of hypnosis for the management of asthma symptoms does not provide clear answers. Anxiety associated with asthma may be relieved with hypnosis. Additional research is needed before a firm conclusion can be drawn. Use cautiously with mental illnesses like psychosis/schizophrenia, manic depression, multiple personality disorder or dissociative disorders. Use cautiously with seizure disorders.
  • Kiwi: Currently data on the therapeutic benefit of kiwi as a preventative for lung conditions is lacking. A survey study suggests that kiwi and other fruits high in vitamin C may be effective for the prevention of respiratory problems in children, especially wheezing. However, properly controlled studies are lacking at this time. More research is warranted before a recommendation can be made.
  • Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to kiwi, latex, birch pollen, banana, chestnut, fig, flour, melon, poppy seeds, rye grain, sesame seeds and related substances. Kiwi is generally considered safe when taken in amounts naturally found in foods. Use cautiously with anti-platelet drugs like aspirin, cilostazol or clopidogrel. Use cautiously with hormone therapies or serotonergic drugs. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding because there are no clinical trials that have tested its safety in supplemental doses. The amount found in foods appears to be safe in most people.
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus: Lactobacillus acidophilus has been suggested as a possible treatment for asthma. However, further research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be made. Acidophilus may be difficult to tolerate if allergic to dairy products containing L. acidophilus. Avoid with a history of an injury or illness of the intestinal wall, immune-disease, or heart valve surgery. Avoid with prescription drugs, like corticosteroids, because of the risk of infection. Use cautiously with heart murmurs. Antibiotics or alcohol may destroy Lactobacillus acidophilus. Therefore, it is recommended that Lactobacillus acidophilus be taken three hours after taking antibiotics or drinking alcohol. Some individuals can use antacids (like famotidine (Pepcid®), esomeprazole (Nexium®)) to decrease the amount of acid in the stomach one hour before taking Lactobacillus acidophilus.
  • L-Carnitine: Currently there is insufficient evidence to support the use of carnitine for respiratory distress in adults. Avoid with known allergy or hypersensitivity to carnitine. Use cautiously with peripheral vascular disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), alcohol-induced liver cirrhosis, and diabetes. Use cautiously in low birth weight infants and individuals on hemodialysis. Use cautiously if taking anticoagulants (blood thinners), beta-blockers, or calcium channel blockers. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Lutein: There is early evidence of a role of carotenoids in lung function and severity of respiratory infections. However, there is no association between levels of lutein in the blood and illness severity in the elderly or in lung function in adults. More information is required in this field before a strong recommendation can be made. Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to lutein or zeaxanthin. Use cautiously if at risk for cardiovascular disease or cancer. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Lycopene: Laboratory research suggests that lycopene, like other carotenoids, may have antioxidant properties and may be helpful in the prevention of exercise-induced asthma. There is limited, poor-quality research in this area, and further evidence is needed before a firm conclusion can be made. Avoid if allergic to tomatoes or to lycopene. Due to a lack of conclusive data, avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Massage: Promising initial evidence suggests that massage therapy may improve lung function in children with asthma. Additional research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn. Avoid with bleeding disorders, low platelet counts, or if on blood-thinning medications (such as heparin or warfarin/Coumadin®). Areas should not be massaged where there are fractures, weakened bones from osteoporosis or cancer, open/healing skin wounds, skin infections, recent surgery, or blood clots. Use cautiously if history of physical abuse or if pregnant or breastfeeding. Massage should not be used as a substitute for more proven therapies for medical conditions. Massage should not cause pain to the client.
  • Meditation: Preliminary research of transcendental meditation® for asthma reports benefits. However, due to unclear design or study description, these results cannot be considered definitive.
  • Sahaja yoga, which incorporates meditation techniques, may have some benefit in the management of moderate to severe asthma. Further studies of meditation alone are needed before any a firm conclusion can be drawn.
  • Use cautiously with underlying mental illnesses. People with psychiatric disorders should consult with their primary mental healthcare professional(s) before starting a program of meditation, and should explore how meditation may or may not fit in with their current treatment plan. Avoid with risk of seizures. The practice of meditation should not delay the time to diagnosis or treatment with more proven techniques or therapies, and should not be used as the sole approach to illnesses.
  • Melatonin: Based on preliminary research, melatonin may improve sleep in asthma. Further studies that evaluate the long-term effects of melatonin on airway inflammation and bronchial hyper-responsiveness are needed before a firm conclusion can be made. Based on available studies and clinical use, melatonin is generally regarded as safe in recommended doses for short-term use. Available trials report that overall adverse effects are not significantly more common with melatonin than placebo. However, case reports raise concerns about risks of blood clotting abnormalities (particularly in patients taking warfarin), increased risk of seizure, and disorientation with overdose.
  • Mistletoe: Studies of Iscador® document improved clinical symptoms and markers of immune function in children with recurrent respiratory disease (RRD) exposed to the Chernobyl nuclear accident. There is currently insufficient evidence to recommend for or against mistletoe therapy for RDD in general. Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to mistletoe or to any of its constituents. Anaphylactic reactions (life threatening, shock) have been described after injections of mistletoe. Avoid with acute, highly febrile, inflammatory disease, thyroid disorders, seizure disorders or heart disease. Use caution with diabetes, glaucoma or with cholinergics.
  • Nasal irrigation: Early research suggests that hypertonic saline aerosol may benefit chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), by enhancing the clearance of lung secretions. More studies are needed. Nasal irrigation is generally well tolerated. Use cautiously with history of frequent nosebleeds. If the irrigation liquid is hot, the nose may become irritated.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil, alpha linolenic acid: Several studies do not provide enough reliable evidence to form a clear conclusion on the use of fish oil for asthma. Because most studies have been small without clear descriptions of design or results, the results cannot be considered conclusive.
  • Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to fish, omega-3 fatty acid products that come from fish, nuts, linolenic acid or omega-3 fatty acid products that come from nuts. Avoid during active bleeding. Use cautiously with bleeding disorders, diabetes, low blood pressure or drugs, herbs or supplements that treat any such conditions. Use cautiously before surgery. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that intake be limited in pregnant/nursing women to a single 6-ounce meal per week, and in young children to less than 2 ounces per week. For farm-raised, imported, or marine fish, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that pregnant/nursing women and young children avoid eating types with higher levels of methylmercury and less than 12 ounces per week of other fish types. Women who might become pregnant are advised to eat 7 ounces or less per week of fish with higher levels of methylmercury or up to 14 ounces per week of fish types with about 0.5 parts per million (such as marlin, orange roughy, red snapper, or fresh tuna).
  • Para-aminobenzoic acid: Although limited available clinical study suggested that oral PAMBA (para-aminomethylbenzoic acid) administration helped to prevent asthma exacerbation following bronchoprovocation challenge, further studies are needed to confirm this effect.
  • Avoid oral use in children and pregnant or nursing women. PABA must be used with caution in patients with renal disease because of its predominantly renal route of excretion. Abnormalities of liver function tests have been noted in patients taking PABA. Monitoring may be indicated for higher doses (>8g per day). Blood sugar monitoring may be warranted in diabetics or patients at risk for hypoglycemia who are taking PABA systemically. Discontinue use if rash, nausea, or anorexia occurs. Pharmaceutical doses of PABA and its derivatives should only be taken under appropriate medical supervision.
  • Peppermint: There is currently not enough available scientific evidence on the use of peppermint for asthma. Use cautiously in patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease or achlorhydria due to lower esophageal sphincter relaxing effects and reports of dyspepsia. Peppermint oil should be used cautiously by people with G6PD deficiency or gallbladder disease. Use cautiously in patients with hiatal hernia or kidney stones. Avoid injection of peppermint oil, as it may result in pulmonary edema and acute lung injury. Avoid topical use of peppermint oil around the facial or chest areas of infants and young children, especially around the nose, because the menthol constituent can induce apnea, laryngeal and bronchial spasm, acute respiratory distress with cyanosis, or respiratory arrest if applied directly to these areas.
  • Perilla: Preliminary evidence suggests some benefit of perilla oil for symptoms of asthma. Further clinical trials are required before a definitive conclusion can be reached. Avoid if allergic/hypersensitive to perilla or members of the Lamiaciae/Labiatae family. Use cautiously with cancer, low HDL-cholesterol and immune disorders. Use cautiously if taking NSAIDS or barbiturates. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Physical therapy: There is currently inconclusive evidence on the use of physical therapy for lung function. Chest physical therapy and physiotherapy breathing retraining have been studied in both children and adults to improve quality of life and improve lung function in severe and acute asthma. Early evidence is mixed. Studies often include combination treatment with drug therapy or are not well-designed, which make it difficult to assess the magnitude of benefit, if any, of physical therapy alone. More research is warranted. There may be a beneficial effect of respiratory rehabilitation in terms of improved tolerance to exercise and improved quality of life for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients. Studies have investigated the use of physical therapy with drugs, as well as the difference between manual and mechanical techniques; few studies have compared respiratory physiotherapy to control groups. Additional study is warranted.
  • Not all physical therapy programs are suited for everyone, and patients should discuss their medical history with a qualified healthcare professional before beginning any treatments. Physical therapy may aggravate pre-existing conditions. Persistent pain and fractures of unknown origin have been reported. Physical therapy may increase the duration of pain or cause limitation of motion. Pain and anxiety may occur during the rehabilitation of patients with burns. Both morning stiffness and bone erosion have been reported in the physical therapy literature although causality is unclear. Erectile dysfunction has also been reported. Physical therapy has been used in pregnancy and although reports of major adverse effects are lacking in the available literature, caution is advised nonetheless. All therapies during pregnancy and breastfeeding should be discussed with a licensed obstetrician/gynecologist before initiation.
  • Pomegranate: It is unclear whether pomegranate juice is helpful for chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD). In theory, pomegranate may be beneficial because of its antioxidant effects, but studies in humans do not support this theory. Additional studies in this area are warranted.
  • Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to pomegranate. Avoid with diarrhea or high or low blood pressure. Avoid taking pomegranate fruit husk with oil or fats to treat parasites. Pomegranate root/stem bark should only be used under supervision of a qualified healthcare professional. Use cautiously with liver damage or disease. Pomegranate supplementation can be unsafe during pregnancy when taken by mouth. The bark, root and fruit rind can cause menstruation or uterine contractions. Avoid if breastfeeding due to a lack of scientific data.
  • Probiotics: Laser acupuncture plus probiotics may help prevent asthma attacks in school-aged children with intermittent or mild persistent asthma. More research with probiotics alone is needed. Probiotics are generally considered safe and well-tolerated. Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to probiotics. Use cautiously if lactose intolerant. Caution is advised when using probiotics in neonates born prematurely or with immune deficiency.
  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may decrease anxiety and depression, but it does not seem to improve physical performance. Supportive psychotherapy may reduce psychiatric symptoms of patients with emphysema. More research is needed in this area.
  • Psychotherapy is not always sufficient to resolve mental or emotional conditions. Psychiatric medication is sometimes needed. The reluctance to seek and use appropriate medication may contribute to worsening of symptoms or increased risk for poor outcomes. In order to be successful, psychotherapy requires considerable personal motivation and investment in the process. This includes consistent attendance and attention to treatment recommendations provided by the practitioner. Not all therapists are sufficiently qualified to work with all problems. The client or patient should seek referrals from trusted sources and should also inquire of the practitioner's training and background before committing to work with a particular therapist. Some forms of psychotherapy evoke strong emotional feelings and expression. This can be disturbing for people with serious mental illness or some medical conditions. Psychotherapy may help with post-partum depression, but is not a substitute for medication, which may be needed in severe cases.
  • Qi gong: Qi gong is a type of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that is thought to be at least 4,000 years old. Some research suggests that the regular practice of internal Qi gong over several months may improve breathing in asthma. Further research is needed to confirm these results. Qi gong is generally considered to be safe in most people when learned from a qualified instructor. Use cautiously with psychiatric disorders.
  • Relaxation therapy: Preliminary studies of relaxation techniques in individuals with asthma report a significant decrease in asthma symptoms, anxiety and depression, along with improvements in quality of life and measures of lung function. Further large trials in humans are needed to confirm these results. Avoid with psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia/psychosis. Jacobson relaxation (flexing specific muscles, holding that position, then relaxing the muscles) should be used cautiously with illnesses like heart disease, high blood pressure, or musculoskeletal injury. Relaxation therapy is not recommended as the sole treatment approach for potentially serious medical conditions, and should not delay the time to diagnosis or treatment with more proven techniques.
  • Sanicle: Sanicle (Sanicula europaea, Sanicula europa), a perennial plant in the Apiaceae family, has been studied for use in asthma. More evidence is needed before a recommendation can be made. Avoid if allergic or sensitive to sanicle. Use cautiously with stomach problems. Use cautiously if taking blood pressure-lowering or diuretic drugs. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Selenium: Preliminary research reports that selenium supplementation may help improve asthma symptoms. Further research is needed to confirm these results. Avoid if allergic or sensitive to products containing selenium. Avoid with history of nonmelanoma skin cancer. Selenium is generally regarded as safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women. However, animal research reports that large doses of selenium may lead to birth defects.
  • Spiritual healing: It is not clear whether spiritual healing has any effect on symptoms or quality of life in asthma patients. Further research is needed. Spiritual healing should not be used as the only treatment approach for medical or psychiatric conditions, and should not delay the time it takes to consider more proven therapies.
  • Tai chi: Tai chi practice may help improve lung function after lung removal. More study is needed in this area. Avoid with severe osteoporosis or joint problems, acute back pain, sprains, or fractures. Avoid during active infections, right after a meal, or when very tired. Some believe that visualization of energy flow below the waist during menstruation may increase menstrual bleeding. Straining downwards or holding low postures should be avoided during pregnancy, and by people with inguinal hernias. Some tai chi practitioners believe that practicing for too long or using too much intention may direct the flow of chi (qi) inappropriately, possibly resulting in physical or emotional illness. Tai chi should not be used as a substitute for more proven therapies for potentially serious conditions. Advancing too quickly while practicing tai chi may increase the risk of injury.
  • Thymus extract: Preliminary evidence suggests that thymus extract may be useful for asthma symptom reduction and for reducing disease exacerbations and hospital admission related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). More clinical trials are required before recommendations can be made involving thymus extract for these uses.
  • Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to thymus extracts. Use bovine thymus extract supplements cautiously due to potential for exposure to the virus that causes "mad cow disease." Avoid use with an organ transplant or other forms of allografts or xenografts. Avoid if receiving immunosuppressive therapy, with thymic tumors, myasthenia gravis (neuromuscular disorder), untreated hypothyroidism, or if taking hormonal therapy. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding; thymic extract increases human sperm motility and progression.
  • Traditional Chinese medicine: Laser acupuncture and probiotics provided a beneficial clinical effect in children with asthma. Further studies are needed to confirm these findings. Herbs used with Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) have been reported to improve symptoms and improve immune function in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients. Needles must be sterile in order to avoid disease transmission. Avoid with valvular heart disease, infections, bleeding disorders or with drugs that increase the risk of bleeding (anticoagulants), medical conditions of unknown origin, neurological disorders. Avoid on areas that have received radiation therapy and during pregnancy. Use cautiously with pulmonary disease (like asthma or emphysema). Use cautiously in elderly or medically compromised patients, diabetics or with history of seizures. Avoid electroacupuncture with arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) or in patients with pacemakers.
  • Tylophora: Available studies of Tylophora for asthma show conflicting results. Methodologically weak trials make extrapolation to clinical practice difficult. Therefore, efficacy remains unproven. Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to tylophora.
  • Vitamin B6: Preliminary research suggests that children with severe asthma may have inadequate pyridoxine status. Theophylline, a prescription drug used to help manage asthma, seems to lower pyridoxine levels. Studies of pyridoxine supplementation in asthma patients taking theophylline yield conflicting results. Further research is needed before a conclusion can be drawn. Avoid vitamin B6 products if sensitive or allergic to any of ingredients in product formulations. Some individuals seem to be particularly sensitive to vitamin B6 and may have problems at lower doses. Avoid excessive dosing. Vitamin B6 is likely safe when used orally in doses not exceeding the recommended dietary allowance (RDA). Use cautiously if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Vitamin C: It has been suggested that low levels of vitamin C (or other antioxidants) may increase the risk of developing asthma. The use of vitamin C for asthma has been studied since the 1980s (particularly exercise-induced asthma), although the evidence in this area remains inconclusive. Additional research is necessary before a clear conclusion can be drawn.
  • Avoid if allergic or sensitive to vitamin C product ingredients. Vitamin C is generally considered safe in amounts found in foods. Vitamin C supplements are also generally considered safe in most individuals if taken in recommended doses. Avoid high doses of vitamin C with glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency, kidney disorders or stones, cirrhosis (inflammation of the liver), gout, or paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (bleeding disorder). Vitamin C intake from food is generally considered safe if pregnant or breastfeeding. It is not clear if vitamin C supplements in doses higher than Dietary Reference Intake recommendations are safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women. Vitamin C is naturally found in breast milk.
  • Fair negative scientific evidence:
  • Evening primrose oil: Small studies do not show evening primrose oil to be useful in the treatment of asthma. Further research is needed.
  • Lycopene: A daily dose of lycopene for one week does not seem to affect lung function after exercise and does not provide any protective effect against clinical difficulty in breathing in young athletes.
  • Reflexology: Reflexology is based on the concept that areas of the feet correspond to other parts of the body, and stimulation of these areas on the feet can affect the associated body part. In addition to the feet, some practitioners perform reflexology of the ears and hands. So far, studies have shown that reflexology is no better than placebo at treating asthma.
  • Vitamin E: There is preliminary evidence that vitamin E does not provide benefits in individuals with asthma.
  • Strong negative scientific evidence:
  • L-arginine: Although it has been suggested that arginine may be a treatment for asthma, studies in humans have actually found that arginine worsens inflammation in the lungs and contributes to asthma symptoms. Therefore, taking arginine by mouth or by inhalation is not recommended in people with asthma.

Prevention
  • Smoking cessation: This is the most important measure for an individual to take to prevent developing emphysema.
  • Avoidance of respiratory irritants: The lungs can be protected by avoiding fumes from paint and automobile exhaust, perfumes, burning candles, and incense. The humidity level in the home should be at 40-50%. Filters to the furnace and air conditioner are changed regularly to limit pollutants.
  • Regular exercise: Regular exercise can significantly increase the capacity for physical activity. Simple breathing techniques (deep breathing) also can help.
  • Fluids: With emphysema, mucus tends to collect in the air passages and can be difficult to clear. Drinking plenty of fluids, such as water or 100% fruit juices, help to keep secretions thin and easy to bring up.
  • Minimization of exposure to allergens: Keep known allergens, such as dog dander and dust, to a minimum.
  • Avoidance of respiratory infections: Avoid being around crowds during cold and flu season (colder months). Washing the hands frequently, along with carrying a small bottle of hand sanitizer, keeps viruses and bacteria away. Touching the nose or rubbing the eyes increases virus and bacteria infection.

Author information
  • This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).

Bibliography
  1. American Academy of Family Physicians. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. .
  2. American Lung Association. .
  3. Centers for Disease Control. .
  4. National Emphysema Foundation. .
  5. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. .
  6. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. .

Causes
  • Smoking: Cigarette smoke is by far the most common cause of emphysema. The damage begins when tobacco smoke temporarily paralyzes the microscopic hairs (cilia) that line the bronchial tubes. Normally, these hairs sweep irritants and germs out of the airways. But when smoke interferes with this sweeping movement, irritants remain in the bronchial tubes and infiltrate the alveoli, inflaming the tissue and eventually breaking down elastic fibers. Shortness of breath (dyspnea) is caused by the lungs being over inflated trying to get more oxygen to the tissues.
  • Genetic protein deficiency: In a small percentage of people, emphysema results from low levels of a protein called alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAt), which protects the elastic structures in the lungs from the destructive effects of certain enzymes. A lack of AAt can lead to progressive lung damage that eventually results in emphysema.

Copyright © 2011 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)


The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.

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