NICE Warns That Asthma Sufferers are Being Wrongly Diagnosed

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

The NHS watchdog has warned that over 1 million asthma suffers may not actually have the chronic lung condition, and therefore might be taking unnecessary medication.

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory respiratory disease that often begins in childhood, but can affect people of any age. Its main characteristics include attacks of wheezing and breathlessness, with the frequency and severity of attacks varying from patient to patient.

According to the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE), one third of adults do not show any clinical signs of the asthma and could risk suffering from the side effects of the prescribed medication.

New guidelines have been drafted for doctors, advising them to apply more clinical tests in order to back up their judgement and steer clear as wrongly diagnosing someone with asthma.

The NICE’s director of clinical practice, Prof. Mark Baker, told reporters that the accuracy of asthma diagnoses has been a noteworthy problem that implies that some cases may be missed in patients and other patients may be wrongly diagnosed.

The aim of NICE’s new guidelines is to set out the most cost-effective and clinical ways to detect and monitor asthma based on the clearest and best available evidence.

The new guidelines state that diagnosis is primarily based upon a comprehensive history, taken by a highly experienced clinician. Therefore, it is unsurprising that up to 30 percent of adults diagnosed with asthma do not have clear enough evidence of the condition.

Every year, the NHS spends up to £1 billion caring for and treating the 5.4 million people suffering from asthma. However, NICE has warned that many of these people might be suffering from different respiratory diseases or allergies.

On the other hand, charities state that over-treatment and under-diagnosis of asthmas is still an increasing problem and believes that people should continue to take their prescribed medication.

On average, three people die each day as a result of asthma. Asthma UK believes that the majority of these deaths could have been avoided if the disease was controlled better.

The charity’s chief executive, Kay Boycott, says that asthma has a number of complex causes, and this is one of the reasons why it is often difficult to obtain a clear diagnosis. She adds that it is an unpredictable condition that is subject to change throughout the course of a person’s life, which means that treatment can also change over time.

She goes on to say that it is vital for anyone with an asthma diagnosis to have the correct medication and a plan to efficiently manage their condition.

The most effective test to begin with is spirometry. This is a machine that measure how fast and how much the patient breathes out. According to the guidelines, additional breath tests may also be necessary.

Over-treatment is a concern as some of the drugs used to manage asthma are subject to side effects such as nausea, vomiting, tremors, throat infections and muscle cramps.

Though Asthma UK is open to the new guidelines, they have warned that there is also evidence of the under-diagnosis of the condition. Eight out of ten asthma sufferers still do not have access to the correct amount of basic care.