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People with asthma sicker, use more healthcare for other diseases


Individuals with asthma are more likely to suffer from other types of disease than those without asthma. The new research from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) has found that individuals with asthma see their doctor 72% more often for other diseases, like pneumonia, anxiety and obesity.”

“Treating comorbidity has been shown to improve asthma outcomes as well as overall health. Despite this, asthma comorbidity remains relatively under recognized and understudied—perhaps because most asthma occurs in young people who are believed to be healthy and relatively free of comorbidity,” says Dr. Andrea Gershon, lead author, ICES scientist and respirologist and scientist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

The population-based cohort study of the 12 million Ontario residents in 2005 found:

  • Individuals with asthma go to see their physician 72 percent more often for disease other than asthma compared to individuals without asthma.
  • Individuals with asthma go to the emergency department more than twice as often for disease other than asthma. Individuals with asthma require hospitalization 66 percent more often for disease other than asthma.
  • Despite asthma being a disease of younger and healthier populations and despite it having few proven causal links with other diseases, asthma comorbidity is common and has a significant impact on individuals and healthcare systems.
  • Together, asthma and asthma comorbidity were found to be associated with: 6 percent of the 2.2 million hospitalizations, 9 percent of the 4.7 million emergency room visits, and 6 percent of the 131.3 million ambulatory care visits in Ontario in 2005.
  • Other respiratory disease, psychiatric disease, and musculoskeletal disease were the most common types of comorbidity found in individuals with asthma.

“We hope our findings will help healthcare providers realize that it is likely that their own asthma patients suffer from asthma comorbidity, and prompt them to look for and manage it appropriately in order to improve overall care,” says Gershon.

Author affiliations: ICES (A. Gershon, J. Guan, T. To); The Hospital for Sick Children (A. Gershon, C. Wang, T. To) and The University of Toronto, Ontario (A. Gershon, T. To).

The study “Burden of comorbidity in individuals with asthma” is in the July 13, 2010 issue of Thorax.

ICES is an independent, non-profit organization that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of healthcare issues. Our unbiased evidence provides measures of health system performance, a clearer understanding of the shifting healthcare 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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