Women & asthma: New survey reveals heavy toll on health, emotions and lifestyle

December 03, 2001

WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 /PRNewswire/ -- Nearly one in two American women with asthma have had an asthma attack so severe that they felt their life was in danger. Nearly one in three suffer from symptoms seven or more times a week. And many say asthma interferes with their daily routines, family lives and social activities.

These are some of the findings of "Women and Asthma in America," a survey released today that reveals the impact that undertreated asthma is having on many aspects of women's lives. The survey offers new insight into what is a major health issue for women, and illustrates what asthma means to the millions of American women who live with the condition.

Researchers interviewed more than 500 women with asthma to explore the frequency and severity of symptoms, the ways in which asthma affects them and those close to them, their understanding of the condition and their attitudes toward asthma and asthma management.

Among the women surveyed:

* Most (56 percent) have had an asthma attack that sent them to an emergency room or urgent care center; 30 percent have had to be hospitalized

* Nearly two out of three (65 percent) women with mild persistent asthma (according to an assessment of symptoms in the past four weeks) had one or more severe attacks in the past year

* Four out of five (83 percent) women who have spouses or partners say their asthma is a source of worry for their spouse or partner; three out of four (76 percent) women who have children say their asthma causes their children to worry about them

* 40 percent have had to decline, cancel or interrupt a social event because of their asthma

* 38 percent agree that asthma affects a woman's sex life

"Too many women appear to be letting asthma dominate their lives," said Bob Lanier, MD, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology and an advisor to the survey. "But it doesn't have to be this way. Women should take a close look at their symptoms, raise their expectations for treatment and work with their physician to develop an effective management plan that truly gets their asthma under control."

Women falling short of asthma treatment goals

The survey reveals that many women with asthma are falling far short of treatment goals(1) established by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. According to these goals, well-controlled asthma should mean, among other things, minimal asthma symptoms and exacerbations, no sleep disruptions, no missed work or school, ability to maintain normal activity levels and no or minimal need for emergency medical care due to asthma .

Yet more than one in four women surveyed (27 percent) report coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath or chest tightness every day during the past four weeks; 39 percent say they were awakened by breathing problems at least once a week during this same time period; and 69 percent had suffered sudden, severe asthma episodes in the past year.

Poorly controlled asthma has an impact on several different aspects of a woman's life. One in three women surveyed (35 percent) say asthma has forced them to cancel or interrupt a family event, and 38 percent have had to stop playing with their children due to asthma . One third (34 percent) say asthma has caused them to leave work early. And more than three out of four (77 percent) say asthma has interfered with physical activities or exercise.

" Asthma is not typically thought of as a women's health issue, but it is all too clear that it is a major problem for women who are living with the disease," said Phyllis Greenberger, MSW, president and CEO of the Society for Women's Health Research and an advisor to the survey. "We need to do a much better job of educating women about managing asthma so that they can lead more active, healthy and worry-free lives."

The survey reveals that asthma is indeed a significant source of fear and worry for women and those close to them. Nearly one in two women surveyed say that their asthma causes them to be anxious (48 percent) or frightened (48 percent) at times. A similar proportion (46 percent) report that at some point they have had an asthma attack so severe they felt their life was in danger; more than half (51 percent) say a friend or family member has thought their life was in danger.

Women more seriously affected than men

The new survey supports the findings of " Asthma in America," a landmark 1998 survey of more than 2,500 asthma patients.(2)

The 1998 survey found that women are more likely than men to have severe persistent asthma , have had a sudden severe attack in the past year, have had an urgent care visit for asthma in the past year and have activity limitations due to their asthma .

Need for greater patient education about asthma management The "Women and Asthma in America" survey also suggests that many women with asthma may not be adequately informed about their condition or the best ways to manage it.

One in three women surveyed (32 percent) believe that it is only possible to treat asthma symptoms, not their underlying causes. Without prompting, fewer than one in ten are able to name either of the two main causes of asthma symptoms: inflammation (swelling and irritation of the airways) and bronchoconstriction (tightening of the muscles around the airways).

In addition, many women appear to be overusing quick-relief medications to manage their asthma . Treatment guidelines say that using these medications more than twice a week may be a sign of poor asthma control, but the survey found that nearly one in three women (32 percent) use quick-relief medications daily.

Women also appear unsure about what their asthma medications do: many confuse the quick-relief medications (e.g., albuterol) that provide relief from asthma symptoms with the long-term control medications (e.g., inhaled corticosteroids) that help prevent symptoms. Half of all women surveyed (50 percent) say that they take quick-relief medications to prevent symptoms.

Inadequate understanding of asthma represents a serious obstacle to good asthma management. Misperceptions about the underlying causes of asthma symptoms and the proper treatment of this chronic condition must be addressed if more American women are to achieve better asthma control and limit its impact on their health and lives.
Survey background

The findings of "Women and Asthma in America" are based on interviews with a two-stage national probability sample of 501 women 18 years of age and older with current asthma . The survey was conducted by telephone during October 2001; interviews averaged 23 minutes in length. The survey was conducted by Schulman, Ronca and Bucuvalas, Inc. (http://www.srbi.com ), a national research firm specializing in health issues. The Society for Women's Health Research (http://www.womens-health.org ) and the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (http://www.acaai.org ) served as advisors to the survey. The survey was funded by GlaxoSmithKline, a research-based pharmaceutical company. The maximum expected sampling error for a sample of 501 is + or - 4.4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

1. "Practical Guide for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma ," National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health. NIH Publication No. 97-4053, October 1997.

2. " Asthma in America," October 1998; Schulman, Ronca and Bucuvalas, Inc. and Glaxo Wellcome Inc. For more information about the survey and its methodology, visit http://www.AsthmaInAmerica.com.

CONTACT: Bob Brody, +1-212-880-5248, or Kathy Vincent, +1-310-407-7925, both for GlaxoSmithKline / 09:01 EST

Ogilvy Public Relations

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