Churg Strauss syndrome is a rare condition, with only 11 or 13 people per million being diagnosed. With such scarcity of information, the first thing that a patient often wants to know is: what is the prognosis? How long do I have, and what will my quality of life be? How will the disease progress?
Diagnosis is most common in early middle-age, with most patients being around the age of forty. The cause of Churg Strauss is unconfirmed, but believed to be either a genetic aberration or auto-immune malfunction or some combination of both factors.
Symptoms can manifest before the definitive diagnosis, and are often mistaken for asthma, sinusitis and allergic rhinitis. Nasal polyps are sometimes present too. This can happen when the patient is in their teens or twenties. The second stage is often the first sign that the patient is not merely asthmatic or suffering respiratory issues as symptoms increase to include weight loss, abdominal pain, gastrointestinal bleeding amongst others. A blood test at this stage reveals high levels of a type of white blood cell called eosinophils: higher than ten per cent levels of eosinophils is a warning sign of Churg Strauss, normal levels being one to three per cent. The third and final stage is when the condition reveals its close relationship to vasculitis as blood vessels become affected. Depending on which blood vessels are affected, the patient may suffer mild, moderate or severe symptoms, the latter being potentially life-threatening.
Depending on how severely the patient is affected and how quickly in the progression of the disease the diagnosis has been made, remission is possible. For milder cases, corticosteroids can keep the condition at bay, while more severe cases may need monthly infusions of immune globulin and stronger medications. However, the danger of relapse is always present. For those afflicted in the major blood vessels, there is a risk of heart conditions like pericarditis, myocarditis and heart failure and kidney involvement which can lead to uremia. It is these 'side-effects' that may threaten the life of the patient.
In general, the prognosis for Churg Strauss is vastly improved on the past, before treatments were available: in those times most patients died within three months of diagnosis. These days, with treatments, up to eighty per cent of sufferers are alive and coping with their condition after five years. However, if major organs are involved, this figure drops to just over fifty per cent. The slightly more positive news is that year on year, sufferers' life expectancy (and quality of life in living with the disease) increases as medical advances and understanding of the condition progress.
Once in remission, the patient must look after their health and diet and promptly report any renewal of symptoms so that treatment can begin - the quicker symptoms are halted, the less likely it is that severe organ damage will result. Patients must also be aware that their condition is progressive and any damage done to the organs is often irreversible.
To summarise: Churg Strauss has no cure, but remission is possible. Life expectancy after diagnosis has risen considerably from a few months to many years, and a good life can be lived with careful and prompt management of symptoms.