Medical News Today: Acute asthma: Women more likely to be hospitalized than men

Last updated: Tuesday 5 May 2015 at 12am PST

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It is well established that asthma is more common in women than men. Now, a new study of around 2,000 patients with acute asthma reveals women are more likely to be hospitalized when being treated for the condition in the emergency department.

Women treated in the emergency department for acute asthma are 60% more likely to be hospitalized than men, according to the study findings.

Lead study author Dr. Rose Chasm and colleagues publish their findings in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Asthma is estimated to affect almost 26 million Americans in the US and is responsible for almost 2 million visits to the emergency department (ED) every year.

There are known disparities in how asthma affects men and women. Asthma is more common among women, and women with the condition are also more likely to suffer an asthma attack than men.

For their study, Dr. Chasm and colleagues set out to determine whether there were differences in the risk of hospitalization between men and women who are treated in EDs for acute asthma.

Women with acute asthma 60% more likely to be hospitalized than men

From assessing the health charts of around 2,000 ED patients with the condition, the team found that women were 60% more likely to be hospitalized than men.

The team says this result remained even after accounting for potential confounders, including use of asthma control medications - such as inhaled corticosteroids - weight, smoking status and whether they had visited an allergist in the past year.

While the exact reasons for the significantly higher hospitalization risk among women treated for acute asthma are unclear, the researchers suggest a number of potential explanations.

It could be down to the influence of female sex hormones, for example. Studies have shown that fluctuation of estrogen in women can trigger airway inflammation, bringing on asthma symptoms. 

Other potential explanations, the team says, are differences in bronchial hyper-responsiveness between men and women, altered perceptions of airflow obstruction and differences in health behaviors. They note that further studies are warranted to identify the exact reasons behind their finding, however.

Allergist visits, use of control medications may reduce asthma-related hospitalizations

The findings also revealed that many of the patients suffered from chronic asthma, with women faring slightly worse than men. Intubation - a plastic tube inserted into the windpipe to maintain an open airway - was performed on 13% of women and 12% of men at some point in their lives.

During the past 12 months, 16% of women and 13% of men had been hospitalized for their asthma, while 36% of women and 32% of men had been hospitalized for the condition at some point in their lifetime.

What is more, the researchers found that only 10% of women had seen an allergist in the past year and the rate was only slightly higher for men, which may have impacted their control of the condition.

"Many people aren't aware that allergists are asthma specialists, and are among the best-equipped experts to help keep asthma under control," says Dr. James Sublett, an allergist and president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

"Those who see an allergist and use controller medications find themselves in the ED much less often, and experience fewer hospitalizations related to their asthma."

Medical News Today recently reported on a study led by researchers from Cardiff University in the UK, who claim to have discovered a potential root cause of asthma - a finding the team says could lead to a cure for the condition.

Written by Honor Whiteman

Copyright: Medical News Today
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American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology news release, accessed 1 May 2015 via Newswise.

Additional source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Asthma facts and figures, accessed 1 May 2015.