November 20, 2017
Doctor reviews patient
Wellness Tip

Double-Check That Asthma Diagnosis

by Berkeley Wellness  

If you have been diagnosed with asthma, consider being retested to make sure you really have the disease. In a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers tested 613 Canadian adults (average age 53) who had been diagnosed with asthma by a doctor within the past five years and found that one-third did not have the disease, based on objective testing. A year later, 90 percent of these participants continued to show no clinical or laboratory evidence of asthma. Most of these people had been taking asthma medication, often daily, prior to the study.

The researchers suggested that the inability to confirm asthma in these participants was due to either initial misdiagnosis or spontaneous remission of the disease (which is not unusual). In 2 percent of the participants, a serious untreated cardiorespiratory condition was identified instead of asthma. Diagnosis of asthma can be tricky, especially when spirometry, an important breathing test, is not done, which is often the case.

"Clinicians often care for patients with numerous diagnoses and symptoms . . .It would not be surprising that a previously diagnosed chronic health condition like asthma that is not currently bothersome would be quickly classified as well controlled, with an equally quick decision to continue current treatment," the accompanying editorial stated. "But could this efficiency lead to overtreatment in the case of a chronic health condition that might resolve over time or might not have been accurately diagnosed in the first place? The study by Aaron and colleagues is an important reminder that in addition to reviewing asthma symptoms and treatment, trying to understand if the diagnosis of asthma is still appropriate is an important part of clinical care.”

Also see Exercise and Asthma.