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Eur Respir J. 2002 Oct;20(4):826-33.

Apparent but not real increase in asthma prevalence during the 1990s.

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  • 1Dept of Respiratory Medicine, Royal Victoria Infirmary, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK.


The authors investigated changes in asthma prevalence and perception of bronchoconstriction over 6 yrs in adults of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Postal questionnaires were sent to 6,000 subjects aged 20-44 yrs in 1992-1993 and 1998-1999. Random samples of 600 responders had assessments of atopy, airway responsiveness, and their ability to perceive methacholine-induced bronchoconstriction. The prevalences of asthmatic symptoms, physician-diagnosis, and medication use increased by an average of 4.4%, particularly in subjects aged <30 yrs (8.7 versus 2.7). Atopy prevalence increased from 25% to 31% but atopics and nonatopics had similar mean changes in questionnaire data (5.2 versus 3.4). The probability of a positive methacholine test decreased as did the mean methacholine dose/response slope (0.00527 to 0.00379), indicating lower levels of airway responsiveness. This can be largely explained by an increase in use of inhaled corticosteroids (5.0-9.3%). The proportion of subjects perceiving bronchoconstriction during methacholine tests increased from 63 to 77%. The authors conclude that current changes in asthma epidemiology in adults may result from increased awareness of symptoms (and/or an increased willingness to report them), and from an increased willingness of physicians to make the diagnosis and prescribe treatment, not from increased disease prevalence.

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