More than one million people diagnosed with asthma may be wrongly diagnosed, and are unnecessarily taking medication that can have significant side effects. A recent study by the NHS watchdog – the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) – suggests 1/3 of adult asthma sufferers have been wrongly diagnosed.
Asthma is a complex condition that causes attacks of wheezing and breathlessness, due to inflammation of the lungs and airflow obstruction. Asthma often starts in childhood, and is a chronic inflammatory respiratory disease. The diagnosis of asthma is often made by doctors based on someone’s medical history alone, which has led to the mis-labelling of a range of respiratory diseases as asthma in many people.
NICE have outlined a new set of guidelines for doctors to follow (http://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/indevelopment/GID-CGWAVE0640), which advise doctors to use more clinical tests for asthma diagnosis which could be in place from this summer onwards. The first of these is spirometry – a machine which measures how much and how fast a person breathes out.
Professor Mark Baker, the director of clinical practice at NICE said that the aim of the new guidelines ‘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’.
If untreated asthma can be life threatening, and 1167 deaths in the UK in 2011 were attributed to asthma. The severity of the disease can vary throughout a person’s life meaning that treatment should be monitored and altered accordingly. The condition can be controlled with the right medication, and the NHS spends around £1 billion a year treating sufferers. The drugs used to control asthma can cause significant side effects including throat infections, comiting, nausua, tremors and muscle cramps.
These new guidelines mean that asthma will be diagnosed more accurately, allowing current asthma sufferers to get the most appropriate treatment, those with other respiratory diseases to be diagnosed, and to recognise asthma in those who have not been diagnosed before.
Photo credit: NIAID, Flickr