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Broad Asthma Screening May Offer Minimal Health Gains

Study finds potential health gains from case detection may be smaller than expected

FRIDAY, Oct. 23 (HealthDay News) -- The potential health benefits from asthma screenings in children seem to be smaller than previously expected, according to research published online Oct. 19 in Pediatrics.

Joe K. Gerald, M.D., of the University of Arizona in Tucson, and colleagues analyzed data from children who participated in an elementary school-based asthma screening study. A blinded physician evaluated children who were found in the screening to have previously diagnosed asthma, undiagnosed probable asthma, or no asthma. The researchers assessed respiratory symptoms, emergency room visits, and hospitalizations.

Of 530 children, the physician evaluation found 420 cases in agreement, including 168 children with previously diagnosed asthma, 39 with undiagnosed asthma, and 213 without asthma. Children with previously diagnosed and undiagnosed asthma had similar severity. Those with undiagnosed asthma had fewer symptoms than those with previously diagnosed disease, but more than children without asthma. Undiagnosed children had the same level of respiratory-related emergency department visits and hospitalizations as those without asthma.

"Children who were identified by asthma case detection experienced more frequent respiratory symptoms than children without asthma, but these symptoms did not lead to excess health care use," the authors conclude. "Population-based case detection may be the only way to identify the child with difficult-to-diagnose asthma; however, the health gains from doing so are likely to be minimal."

The study was supported in part by GlaxoSmithKline and Polar Electro Company.

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