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Many Treat Asthma Only When Symptoms Appear

But that's a potentially dangerous practice, researchers warn

MONDAY, March 13, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- More than half of American adults with serious asthma believe they only have asthma when they experience symptoms, and many forego using medications when they feel symptom-free, new research shows.

The findings are troubling to asthma experts, however, who note that easing up on asthma medication when symptoms disappear undermines good disease management.

Reporting in the March issue of Chest, researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City surveyed 198 adults hospitalized with asthma. The patients lived in East Harlem, one of the communities hardest hit by asthma in the United States.

"More than half of them thought they only had asthma when they were having symptoms. They are treating asthma more like a cold or flu that will go away between attacks, than as the serious, chronic disease which it is," study lead author Dr. Ethan Halm, associate professor of medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement.

Patients who had this "no symptoms, no asthma" belief were one-third less likely to take their asthma medication daily.

"This is particularly troubling because daily use of anti-inflammatory medications is proven to improve asthma control, reduce rates of hospitalizations, and is the cornerstone of guideline recommended best practice," Halm said.

Male patients, those over 65 years old, and patients with no consistent place of care were most likely to have the "no symptoms, no asthma" belief.

The study also found that 20 percent of the patients felt they would not always have asthma and 15 percent expected their doctor to cure them of the disease.

"Our findings suggest that there may be a fundamental disconnect between how patients and physicians think about and manage asthma," Halm said. "As clinicians, we need to find better ways to uncover patients' underlying health beliefs as a critical first step to trying to help them understand and treat their asthma as a serious but controllable chronic disease."

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about asthma.

SOURCE: Mount Sinai School of Medicine, news release, March 13, 2006
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