Study shows one in three asthma patients to be misdiagnosed

GP’s may be too eager to reach for a generalised diagnosis without proper testing


A third of adults who’ve been diagnosed with asthma do not actually have the illness, new research suggests.

A study found that 33% of adults recently diagnosed with asthma by their physicians did not have active asthma when they underwent formal testing.

Over 90% of these patients were able to stop their asthma medications and remain safely off medication for one year.

The findings have called into question current methods used for asthma diagnosis both in the UK and abroad.

The study looked at more than 600 randomly selected patients, from 10 Canadian cities, who were diagnosed with asthma in the last five years.

After a series of detailed breathing tests followed by consultation with a lung specialist, asthma was ruled out in a third of these patients.

The research team was able to access the medical records of 530 of the patients to see how they were originally diagnosed.

They found that in 49% of these cases, physicians had not ordered the airflow tests required to confirm an asthma diagnosis. Instead, they based their diagnosis solely on the patient’s symptoms and their own observations.

This is an issue which also affects UK health policy since, according to the NHS, GP’s will diagnose asthma in cases where the patient simply indicates symptoms consistent with the condition rather than calling for tests to confirm the initial observation.

Often this is the result of a patient interview rather than genuine clinical testing.

According to the latest study, when the patients who were found not to have asthma were re-diagnosed, most had minor conditions like allergies or heartburn, and 28% had nothing wrong with them at all.

Worryingly, a total of 2% had serious conditions like pulmonary hypertension or heart disease that had been misdiagnosed as asthma and went on to receive the correct treatment.

Around 80% of the participants who did not have asthma had been taking asthma medication and 35% took it daily.

It is time that doctors, as well as patients, began to take this issue more seriously.


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