According to a Canadian team of researchers, one in three asthma patients could have been misdiagnosed with the disease. The scientists performed multiple tests on more than 600 adults diagnosed with the chronic lung condition within the past five years. If the subjects were on medication at the time of the survey, the researchers would gradually take them off the drugs. The process would have been completed over the course of four clinic visits, in order to observe whether the patient’s lungs would work without treatment.
As researchers soon discovered, 203 patients should not have been diagnosed with the chronic lung affection. In percentage points, 33 percent of the participants were taking wrong medication for a condition they did not have. Follow-up procedures conducted over the course of the next year showed that 181 of the participants scored too well on lung tests to have been diagnosed with asthma, say the researchers.
However, even though the subjects were wrongfully diagnosed with the disease, they had other health conditions that went untreated. Some of them were found to have asthma, but in remission, says the lead author of the study, Dr. Shawn Aaron of the University of Ottawa and the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.
According to the researchers, the lung condition can be especially difficult to diagnose in human patients, since not all individuals exhibit the same symptoms or have the same triggers. Asthma symptoms include chest pain, wheezing, difficulty breathing, and cough. Moreover, some of the patients can experience periods of relapse and remission.
All the participants were subjected to multiple breathing tests. Out of those misdiagnosed with asthma, 2 percent, or 12 people, had other serious health conditions such as pulmonary hypertension or heart disease. At the same time, the researchers found multiple other subjects suffering from gastroesophageal reflux, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or hyperventilation associated with anxiety issues, rather than asthma.
Nevertheless, the study has its limitations, say the researchers. The scientists said they could only track patients who have been weaned off asthma medication for 15 months, which does not guarantee that the illness will return for those with asthma in remission. Also, the researchers focused only on patients which exhibited milder forms of the disease and were not using long-term oral corticosteroids.
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