The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has found that more than 1 million people in Britain who are receiving treatment for asthma may have been wrongly diagnosed. The health watchdog has published a new draft guidance for doctors on testing for the condition.
Asthma is a long-term condition that can cause coughing, wheezing and breathlessness. The NICE report says that around 4.1 million people in Britain receive treatment for asthma but studies suggest that up to 30 percent do not show clear evidence of having the illness. The new guidelines for England, subject to consultation, recommend doctors use a range of clinical tests to diagnose the lung condition more accurately, and also observe signs and symptoms. Currently there is no standard test for diagnosing asthma and diagnosis is mainly based on medical history. The guidelines suggest that spirometry, which assesses airflow, should be the first test used to reach a diagnosis, followed by further breath tests.
Professor Mark Baker, director of clinical practice at NICE, said, "Accurate diagnosis of asthma has been a significant problem which means that people may be wrongly diagnosed or cases might be missed in others. Our aim with this guideline is to give clarity and set out the most clinical and cost-effective ways to diagnose and monitor asthma based on the best available evidence."
The new guidelines were welcomed by the charity Asthma UK. Kay Boycott, chief executive at Asthma UK, said, "Asthma has many complex causes which is one of the reasons why it is sometimes difficult to get a definitive diagnosis. It is also a highly variable condition that can change throughout someone's life or even week by week, meaning treatment can change over time. For anyone with an asthma diagnosis, it is vital they have the right medication and a plan to better manage their condition and any asthma attacks."