Study: Nearly one-third of asthma patients may be misdiagnosed

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A Canadian study reveals nearly a third of asthma patients may not actually have asthma.

Atlanta Allergy and Asthma allergist Dr. Stanley Fineman says he's not surprised.

"Asthma is a disease or a condition that can vary," Dr. Fineman says. "It gets worse, it gets better. But you have to make sure you have an accurate diagnosis and you're followed properly."

In the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers followed 613 volunteers who had been diagnosed with asthma. Many were taking daily medications to control their allergies and symptoms.

Over 4 visits, the volunteers were gradually tapered off of their asthma medications,while being carefully monitored with lung function tests, known as spirometry.

"And what they found is that 33% were able to discontinue their medications and had no problems with reactive airways, which is the classic underlying finding of asthma," says Dr. Fineman.

Researchers found many of the volunteers had been diagnosed without a lung function test, and about 2% had a medical condition unrelated to asthma.

Dr. Fineman says lung function tests are critical to diagnosing and assessing asthma patients.

"If you have chronic asthma, you should really have a lung function, a spirometry test, at least every 6 months," he says.

"The take home message is that they need to be be followed by a doctor who knows how to handle asthma, like a specialist," Dr. Fineman says. "They need to have lung function tests to document their condition and their breathing, and they need to make sure their medications are followed on a regular basis. Because sometimes they might need to step them up and step them down."

Does this mean we can outgrow asthma?

Dr. Fineman cautions this is only one study. But he says the findings that 33.1% of asthma patients had no need for their asthma medications after being weaned off them, is "significant."

Nena Rotthoff, diagnosed with asthma as a child, says she hopes to one day be free of asthma.

Until then, the 28-year old says, she will take her daily medications and stay on top of her symptoms.

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