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From Asthma to Scoliosis

March 24, 2011

I had my first full workout with my newly hired personal trainer this past Tuesday. Because I’m so out of shape aerobically, it didn’t take long to induce an asthma attack.

First, a little background. I have a fairly mild case of exercise-induced asthma. When I get an attack, I definitely get short of breath and I cough a lot, but my worst symptoms are the burning in my lungs and the tightness of my chest. While my attacks are highly uncomfortable (or downright painful), they usually subside when I stop exercising without the use of my rescue inhaler. I’m never in any danger of passing out or needing to be hospitalized from lack of air.

The asthma attack I experienced on Tuesday was a fairly normal one, although on the severe side for me. My lungs burned more than usual, and my chest was constricted in pain long after ceasing the exercise. I didn’t use my inhaler because despite the pain, I could breath. (I have since learned that my inhaler will help with the pain too, and I should have used it.) What wasn’t normal was that along with the attack, I experienced a very strong taste of blood in my mouth. So yesterday, I made a trip to my allergist’s office to discuss the issue and make sure there wasn’t something wrong. The nurse practitioner said that I had most likely burst a blood vessel in my throat from coughing and that it was nothing to worry about. However, she sent me to get chest x-rays to be on the safe side.

I got the x-rays done immediately following the appointment, and the nurse practitioner called later that day while I was in a meeting to give me the results. She left the following voicemail:

Hi Sabrina, I was calling to let you know that your chest x-ray came back normal. If you have any questions you may call us back. On the x-ray it did show a little scoliosis, um, but, it doesn’t.. it is still normal. Um, if you have any questions, call us back.

Wait, what? My chest x-ray was normal, but it shows scoliosis??? At first it didn’t register what exactly that meant, but after doing a quick Google search, I proceeded to FREAK OUT. I had just been informed that my spine is curved, and not as in hunched like you might see with osteoporosis, but rather curved sideways. I saw horrible images of people with curved spines and read about how I might need physical therapy, or a back brace, or even worse, surgery. Let me tell you, I was IN. A. STATE. I called my husband crying, and then I called my Dad and cried some more. I realized I wasn’t going to get any more work done that day, and I left early for home.

Well it just so happens that at the time that I called my dad, he was on his way to his own doctor appointment for a checkup, so he asked his doctor about the scoliosis diagnosis. It turns out that most cases of scoliosis (which affects about 2-3% of the population) develop during a person’s teenage years and are minor. People with these minor cases usually don’t have any symptoms other than a slight height difference between their shoulders or the two sides of their hips. They lead long, normal, healthy lives, possibly experiencing a little lower back pain now and then, but nothing more. Most likely, I am one of these people, and it has taken until now for somebody to notice the deformity. My dad’s doctor said that if I haven’t had any negative symptoms so far, I probably won’t ever have them.

My husband, who was also trying to make me feel better, sent me a picture (shown below) of a world class body builder with scoliosis (Lamar Gant). You can plainly see the curvature of this man’s back, and yet he has won numerous championships and is even in the Guinness Book of World Records. Clearly, scoliosis did not hold him back.

Lamar Gant had scoliosis and yet he became a world class lifter.

After the reassurances from my dad and my husband, and after doing my own research, I felt a lot better about my scoliosis diagnosis. I still need to talk to my primary care physician about it to make sure there are no underlying causes we need to be aware of, but most likely, this diagnosis will have no bearing on my life. My next appointment is on Tuesday, and I’ll let you know how it goes!

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