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Med Hypotheses. 2005;64(6):1102-4.

Asthma: a disuse contracture?

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Department of Anatomy with Radiology, School of Medicine, University of Auckland, PO Box 92019 Auckland, New Zealand.


The incidence of asthma is increasing. There is no obvious explanation for this increase and current theory has no explanation for the occurrence of the disease in the non-allergic, the sudden onset of the asthma attack, the hyper-reactivity of the muscular wall, the association of the disease with obesity, or its precipitation by exercise. Biopsy studies have shown that the narrowing of air passages which characterises the disease is associated with thickening of their fibrous and muscular layers. As narrowing of air passages necessarily involves shortening of annular and helical components, this narrowing is in effect an annular contracture, analogous to those seen in underextended longitudinal structures such as muscles and tendons. The only common cause for such contractures is habitual underextension. As the only extending force in annular air passages is inspiration, this leads to the hypothesis that the basic cause of the disease is an insufficiency of aerobic exercise in childhood. Should the airways fail to develop their normal calibre, the narrowing will precipitate a sequence of events which can be predicted from the laws of physics. La Place's Law explains the instability of the muscle wall, the sudden onset of the attacks, reflecting episodes of critical collapse and the occurrence of the disease in the non-allergic. Bernoulli's Law explains the provocative effect of exercise and the postulated lack of exercise explains the increasing prevalence and the association with obesity. The hypothesis can be tested by comparative epidemiology. If it is correct, the disease should be preventable.

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