Botched asthma diagnosis…

Nothing like the sun newspaper to come up with a good headline:

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I may not be totally accurate in my view that for a long time asthma was a bit of a buzz word within the medical world. From reading and talking to different people it appeared that often people would go to their Dr because of a prolonged cough of some viral wheeze and come home with an inhaler and asthma diagnosis. I admit this is a huge assumption and there will have been more supporting evidence but it almost seems over recent years there has been an epidemic of asthma diagnosis

However last week NICE (National Institute for health and Care Excellence) published a draft report suggesting that over 1 million people in the UK had been wrongly diagnosed with asthma. That is 1/5 of the 5.4 million people who have asthma could actually not have asthma. I feel that if asthma statistics are not shocking enough lets just add some more stats and make it even worse.

The problem with asthma is that there are so many sub types, different phenotypes, different symptoms, triggers and so on and so forth. There is also no hard and fast rule of how to diagnose asthma. There are rough outlines for example recording a peak flow diary for a few weeks to see patterns and changes and depending on the result of this an asthma diagnosis can be made. However many people will present acutely with breathing difficulties which need to be treated first and not wait to do a peak flow diary. Due to the pressures on GP’s they do not have the time to spend with a patient making regular appointments to monitor them over a period of time before coming to the conclusion that the patient has asthma. You can read a small bit about this in one of my guest blogs by Laura (can be found in left side tab under Guest blogs) where she talks briefly about being diagnosed with asthma.

When I heard about the draft report from NICE part of me thought perhaps I could be one of those wrongly diagnose but that is very much wishful thinking. I think after 27 years of asthma, 11 years of brittle asthma, countless hospital and critical care admissions they would have worked out if I did not have asthma. But one can dream in the hope of one day not having asthma!!!

I can’t imagine the emotion and thoughts going through some peoples mind about wether they have asthma or not. I worry that many who are not particularly symptomatic and use inhalers regularly will stop using their inhalers because they may assume they don’t have asthma. This could potentially cause a huge problem and the aim of reducing hospital admissions due to asthma and deaths due to asthma may not decrease but might in fact increase as a result of many people hearing or reading shock headlines such as the Sun produced.

Asthma is such a difficult condition to have and to monitor because of the sheer numbers of people who have asthma.  My thoughts about why statistics surrounding asthma are so bad because it is a condition which does not cause a immediate deterioration if medication is not taken. To pick another condition such as diabetes, there is a very measurable way to see impact of medication. If a diabetic does not take insulin they will see very quickly their blood sugars increase and develop unwanted symptoms whereas with asthma if someone who is well controlled stops taking their inhaler there is no immediate effect which I believe could contribute to poor compliance as the effects of the inhaler would only be seen if the patient was subjected to a trigger.

When NICE put out the draft report about the possibility of so many people being wrongly diagnosed with asthma I was called by Asthma UK to do a radio interview about it. I was not able to participate in this unfortunately as it would be a chance to emphasise the importance of continuing medication even if you are not bothered by your asthma as the reason you are not bothered by it is because you are taking inhalers. I am glad in a way I was not able to participate in the interview because once I gave the report some thought it dawned on me that here in Scotland we do not use NICE guidelines for conditions and management but instead use SIGN who have not issued any reports about the possibility of inaccurate asthma diagnosis.

There does need to be a more robust and universal method of diagnosing asthma but I think this is a very difficult task to succeed on. Due to the nature of asthma as I said before there would need to be numerous different guides depending on the subtype, triggers or symptoms an individual suffered from.

in the meantime I can only hope that those who are in two minds about their asthma seek medical advice before stopping taking their treatment. It is a huge fear that this report will cause a lot of people to become unwell and possibly end up needing hospital treatment due to not taking their medication. It will be interesting to see in the future the impact that this has had.

3 thoughts on “Botched asthma diagnosis…

  1. Very interesting. To be honest, I hope I’m one of the one million. I haven’t had any symptoms in over a year and have already stopped taking my medication with no ill-effect.

    1. Please don’t stop taking medication without the advice of a Dr. The misconception many have with asthma is they think they can stop taking their medication because they don’t have symptoms and often when stopping medication they still don’t have symptoms but you may find that you are exposed to a trigger or get a virus which sets you asthma off. The whole point of the medication is to make you feel as though you don’t have asthma. If you have no symptoms etc it is because the inhalers are doing the right thing and keeping the inflammation in your lungs at bay. Please go and see someone about stopping your medication for your asthma rather than just stopping it yourself.

      1. I understand. My doctor and I went through a process to get me off. I plan on keeping my inhalers up-to-date just in case the symptoms come back. In fact, I still keep my rescue inhaler in my wallet. But otherwise I’ve been fine for a year.

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