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Study suggests once you have asthma, you have it for life

March 6, 2012 Toronto

Unlike most chronic diseases, which tend to affect older adults and get progressively worse over time, asthma can start at any age (most commonly in children) and is known to clinically persist, possibly resolve, and/or present any combination of remissions and relapses over time. New research from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), however, supports the hypothesis that once a person has asthma, they continue to have it for life.

“A lot of people have asthma and would like to know how their disease will affect them over time. These findings offer insight into the course of asthma activity and support the hypothesis that once a person has asthma; they will continue to have it for life. This knowledge can be used by individuals with asthma and their physicians to predict how their disease will evolve and be proactive in its management,” says Andrea Gershon, lead author, ICES Scientist and Respirologist and Scientist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

The population-based cohort study followed 613,394 individuals with asthma in 1993 for 15 years and found:

  • The majority (82.3 per cent) continued to have active asthma
  • About three quarters of people with active asthma had gaps of time, often lasting years, when their asthma appeared inactive and they were likely in remission
  • People with more prior visits for asthma, children and people over 65 years, and those with a co-diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) were found to have more active asthma

“Over 15 years, most individuals with asthma in Ontario were found to have active disease which was interspersed by periods of inactivity when they did not seek medical attention and were likely in remission. These analyses offer insight into the natural course of asthma activity that may help improve the ability to predict an individual’s course of disease,” says Gershon.

Author block: Andrea Gershon, Jun Guan, J. Charles Victor, Chengning Wang, Teresa To.

The study “The course of asthma activity: a population study,” is in the March 2012 print edition of The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

ICES is an independent, non-profit organization that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of health care issues. Our unbiased evidence provides measures of health system performance, a clearer understanding of the shifting health care needs of Ontarians, and a stimulus for discussion of practical solutions to optimize scarce resources. ICES knowledge is highly regarded in Canada and abroad, and is widely used by government, hospitals, planners, and practitioners to make decisions about care delivery and to develop policy.

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