About one in every 12 people have asthma, which is close to 25 million people in the United States alone. But new research might have these millions of people rethinking their diagnosis completely. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that many adults with diagnosed asthma may not, in fact, have asthma at all.
The study included over 600 men and women who had been diagnosed by a physician in the last five years. Researchers gave them a series of drug challenges and spirometry tests (the standard diagnostic methods for asthma) to confirm or rule out the disorder. Their results were pretty shocking; they found that in over 33 percent of the participants, a current asthma diagnosis could not be made.
How does this happen?
If you are wondering how this is even possible—you not alone. We asked some of our health experts to weigh in on this study and what is means for asthmatics across the globe. Dr. Jeffrey Egler, a family practice physician and Los Angeles Medical Director of Parsley Health is not necessarily surprised by the results of this study, saying that a definitive asthma diagnosis often depends upon follow-up tests, but in many cases these tests never get performed.
Dr. Darria Long Gillespie, an ER doctor, says that asthma symptoms can be diverse and nonspecific, making a diagnosis difficult. Oftentimes an upper respiratory tract infection can mimic asthma, so it's important to remember that "acute asthmalike symptoms" do not necessarily mean asthma—which must be diagnosed with a breathing test and the presence of chronic symptoms.
Can a holistic approach be helpful?
According to our health experts: yes. First, because an integrative approach considers the option that the condition may not be permanent and that if the underlying cause is addressed, the condition can potentially be resolved. Second, integrative doctors will spend more time with patients, may not be as quick to make a lifelong chronic disease diagnosis, and will consider a patient's overall health, environmental factors, and other potential triggers.
Dr. Gillespie always tells her patients to wait until the acute condition gets better, and then test for asthma. They should also consider vocal cord dysfunction, GERD, postviral tussive syndrome, allergic rhinitis, and even whooping cough—all of which can mimic asthma.
If you have a chronic disease, always ask questions.
This study is a big deal in the health and particularly the holistic health world. Asthma, like most other chronic illnesses, is expensive to treat and can greatly affect quality of life. This new research suggests that millions of people could be taking asthma medications (and dealing with side effects like oral thrush and ) that they don't need and grappling with a scary diagnosis that isn't necessarily correct. According to Dr. Egler, it's important for anyone with a chronic illness to periodically evaluate their medication needs. Because even if you do have asthma, not all asthma requires daily steroids or the same amount or type of medication.
The bottom line? Ask questions. Empower yourself by being active in your own health care. And always listen to your intuition.