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Study Reveals That 33% of Adults Diagnosed With Asthma Do Not Have It

Study Reveals That 33% of Adults Diagnosed With Asthma Do Not Have It

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  • Asthma, is a long-term respiratory illness associated with the airways, which become inflamed and swollen when symptoms are triggered.
  • The research team found that 33% of adults who were diagnosed with asthma, actually did not have it.
  • About 90% of the patients did not need to take medications, indicating unnecessary medical costs.

Asthma is a common long-term respiratory disease, but a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found that among adults who are diagnosed with asthma, 33% do not have active asthma. Asthma medications could be stopped for more than a year for nearly 90% of the patients.

The lead author of the study respirologist, Dr. Shawn Aaron who is a senior scientist at The Ottowa Hospital said that it was impossible to determine how many of the patients were misdiagnosed and how many have asthma which may no longer be active. The scientist continues that their study was able to analyze how many of the patients could stop taking medications, which is significant as the medications are expensive and can lead to the development of side effects.


The study found that
  • 33% did not have active asthma
  • 90% could stop medications
  • 80% who did not have asthma were taking asthma medication
  • 35% of these participants were taking medications daily though they did not need to
  • Doctors did not always order tests to confirm diagnosis of asthma
  • Diagnosis was based mostly on symptoms that patients presented with
Dr. Aaron continued that doctors would not fail to check blood sugar levels before diagnosing diabetes or test for broken bones using an x-ray but he said that "for some reason" doctors were not ordering for spirometry before they diagnosed asthma.


Asthma is a long-term illness associated with the airways which include bronchial tubes. Asthma results in the airways becoming inflamed and swollen with the muscles tightening when symptoms are triggered. This restricts the passage of air moving in and out of the lungs, leading to symptoms that include wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath as well as coughing.

Identifying Asthma

The study involved 613 random patients who were from 10 different Canadian cities who were diagnosed with asthma during the last five years. They were made to undergo a series of detailed breathing tests after which they were checked by lung specialist who ruled out asthma in a third of the patients.

The medical records of 530 of the study participants were analyzed and the original diagnosis was determined. One of the significant aspects of the study was that in nearly 49% of the study participants the physicians did not order air flow tests, a test that was deemed necessary according to medical guidelines.

Re-diagnosis of Asthma Patients

When the study participants were re-diagnosed, it was found that
  • Many of the study participants had minor health issues that ranged from heart burn to allergies
  • 28% of the participants had nothing wrong with them
  • 2% had serious conditions like heart disease or pulmonary hypertension which was misdiagnosed as asthma. These patients were then guided for more appropriate treatment.

"Not Surprised"

Dr. Aaron said that most patients, who received the news that they did not have asthma, were not surprised at all. Some people felt that their "puffer" wasn't working while others believed that they had a more serious condition. Most of the conditions that were diagnosed as a result of this study were not serious and could be treated easily.

The study also details the situation of Becky Hollingsworth who is a 72-year-old retired nurse who was diagnosed to have asthma about two years ago. During the course of the study, she found out that she suffered a temporary breathing problem which led to shortness of breath, remnants of her bout with pneumonia. Becky said that she was happy that she did not have asthma and though she was falsely diagnosed, she had to deal with problems associated with chronic illness, like increased insurance while traveling and the need to take medications.

Previous Study by Dr. Aaron

This study is not the first time that Dr. Aaron has been studying the gross misdiagnosis of asthma. In a previous study conducted in 2008,
  • 30% of asthma patients were misdiagnosed
  • A Canadian survey from 2010 showed that
  • 8.5% of Canadians over 12 years of age were diagnosed with asthma
Asthma is a life-long condition, though it could become less intense or could completely go away.

Dr. Aaron said that there was a need to educate physicians and that public had a right for correct diagnosis. The public who suffer from persistent breathing difficulty should:
  • Request their doctor for a breathing test (spirometry) to identify if they have asthma or some other chronic pulmonary disease.
  • Take their medication regularly
The severity of asthma necessitates appropriate medical attention but misdiagnosis could result in unnecessary medication as well as increased insurance costs.

References :
  1. Asthma Overview - (http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/asthma)

Source: Medindia

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