—A Special Report from Victor Marchione, MD
A new piece of research says that asthma is being misdiagnosed regularly among adults. In particular, those struggling with obesity and who have breathing troubles could be diagnosed as having asthma by a doctor, when in fact they don’t.
A chronic disease, asthma strikes your airways, making them sore and swollen. That makes them very sensitive, and you can start suffering harsh reactions to allergens or airborne irritations. In this reaction, airways can narrow, lungs get less air, and symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and trouble breathing can erupt. Doctors treat it with short-relief medicine to battle symptoms and long-term relief medicine to prevent flare-ups.
A new Canadian study included nearly 500 adults who had been diagnosed with asthma. When researchers did a lung function test, they found that asthma was not present in 150 people. That is 30% of the group, a strikingly high percentage. It was published in the journal “Chest.”
When they looked further into these misdiagnoses, they found that obese individuals who went to the emergency room with breathing problems were four times as likely as those of normal weight to be told they had asthma.
One issue with all this is that a “spirometry,” which tests lung function, is not used by doctors as much as it should be for diagnosing asthma. To see if you really have asthma, it’s not just about symptoms; it’s about lung function tests as well.
In terms of obesity, people have a much greater risk of suffering health issues that could lead to symptoms mimicking asthma, such as being out of breath or having a tight chest. Heart disease, a sedentary lifestyle and heartburn, for instance, could also yield those symptoms. In the current study, about half the patients were obese and half were normal weight.
In the study, lung tests confirmed that 70% of the patients did indeed have asthma. But, of course, the 30% on the other side is way too high when you are dealing with life-changing medical issues. The researchers suggest that if you are diagnosed with asthma at a hospital or walk-in clinic, always follow up with your personal doctor. Get more tests and evaluations that could show the true cause of symptoms, which may not be the A-word.