Systematic assessment of difficult-to-treat asthma

01 Sep 2003
Respiratory conditions
  • Asthma
Respiratory topics
  • Disease management
Type of resource
Peer-reviewed article
Robinson DS, Campbell DA, Durham SR, Pfeffer J, Barnes PJ, Chung KF, Asthma and Allergy Research Group of the National Heart and Lung Institute.


Five per cent of asthmatics remain symptomatic despite high-dose treatment. The aim of the study was to investigate how often such difficult-to-treat asthma is due to intractable asthma, misdiagnosis, non-adherence with therapy, or psychiatric problems. Difficult asthma was defined as persistence of symptoms despite treatment at step 4 of British guidelines or requirement for long-term oral glucocorticoids (step 5). One-hundred patients with a respiratory physician diagnosis of asthma were investigated in a single tertiary respiratory unit in an open and descriptive study. Twelve of the patients studied did not have asthma and a further seven had additional diagnoses. Of the remainder, 55 had an asthma diagnosis confirmed by demonstration of reversible airflow narrowing or peak flow variability, whilst 20 did not. Non-compliance with prednisolone therapy was more frequent in the 55 with confirmed asthma (nine of 18 prescribed oral prednisolone at a dose of > or = 15 mg x day(-1)) and was not detected in the "unconfirmed asthma" group. There were no other significant differences between these groups. A major psychiatric component was detected in 10 patients. Systematic evaluation of difficult asthma is useful as it can identify alternative or additional diagnoses, psychiatric illness or nonconcordance with therapy in a substantial proportion of cases (32% in the present series).