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Asthma epidemiology: has the crisis passed?

Lawson, Joshua Allan; Senthilselvan, Ambikaipakan

Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine: January 2005 - Volume 11 - Issue 1 - p 79-84
doi: 10.1097/01.mcp.0000147861.60768.24

Purpose of review Asthma is a difficult, resource-intensive disease that can result in symptoms, hospitalization and, in rare cases, death. In the past few decades, there has been an abundance of evidence showing the prevalence of asthma to be increasing in certain regions. However, reports have recently emerged suggesting that asthma prevalence has stabilized. This has led to debate among researchers whether increases in asthma prevalence have come to an end. We reviewed recent literature in search of answers to the ongoing debate on whether the asthma crisis is over.

Recent findings In contrast with past reports, several recent studies have reported a stabilization of asthma prevalence. However, based on repeated cross-sectional studies, findings regarding the stabilization of asthma prevalence have been inconsistent, especially when considering the heterogeneity of the disease, which can result in a variety of patterns concerning asthma diagnosis, symptoms, and allergic sensitization. Temporal trends considering physician visits, hospitalizations, and mortality have been more consistent, with stabilizing and decreasing patterns of asthma burden in recent years.

Summary Because reasons for the original increases in asthma prevalence remain unclear, an explanation for the apparent stabilization of asthma prevalence reported in some studies also remains elusive. This is compounded by the difficulty in defining asthma accurately in population studies and inconsistencies in the results of prevalence estimation among repeated cross-sectional studies. Efforts should be made to continue monitoring asthma prevalence and to begin monitoring asthma prevalence in regions where environmental and social changes are occurring.

Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Correspondence to Ambikaipakan Senthilselvan, PhD, Department of Public Health Sciences, 13-106B Clinical Sciences Building, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2G3, Canada

Tel: 780 492 6505; fax: 780 492 0364; e-mail:

© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.