The preliminary results of a study I had a role in were recently released to the public (the final results will soon be presented and published). I am pleased to see that this got some press, though I am hopeful there will be more when the final paper is published as I believe the findings are important.
The Asthma G.A.P. in America II: General Awareness and Perceptions study surveyed about 1000 asthma patients by phone to learn more about their understanding about asthma. Though most new that asthma is a serious disease, many asthmatics stop their medication because they believe their asthma is under control, when in fact it is not.
Like diabetes and hypertension, asthma is a chronic disease, which means you always have it. The underlying factor in asthma is inflammation in the lungs which leads to asthma symptoms. However, inflammation is present in the lungs even when symptoms are not occurring. This is why asthmatics with persistent asthma need to take daily medicines to stop inflammation, just like patients with hypertension or diabetes need to take their medicines everyday. However, in this study nearly half (42 percent) of patients surveyed incorrectly believe that when asthma symptoms subside, their controller medicine can be taken less regularly.
Asthma, considered one of the most serious chronic diseases in the United States, affects more than 22 million Americans. Despite having medications and other treatment that can keep most asthmatics under control, sudden uncontrolled asthma episodes account for an estimated 1.8 million emergency room visits and nearly 500,000 hospitalizations each year.
One possibility is that though (from the study) asthmatic patients seem to understand that asthma is serious, since they stop taking their medications when they have no symptoms, they must believe that the risk of asthma goes away, which is not the case. The other possibility is that patients associate asthma symptoms with asthma control. Though symptoms are an important component of control, there are other factors such as being able to do normal activity without limitations, getting a good night's sleep, and having the lungs function as well as they can. There are tools available, such as the Asthma Assessment and Asthma Control Test, which can help patients track their asthma control and discuss with their doctor.