Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Investigation into use of drugs preceding death from asthma.

Br Med J 1968; 1 doi: (Published 10 February 1968) Cite this as: Br Med J 1968;1:339
  1. F. E. Speizer,
  2. R. Doll,
  3. P. Heaf,
  4. L. B. Strang
  1. University College Hospital Medical School, London.


    Copies of death certificates were provided by the Registrar General for all deaths attributed to asthma in persons aged 5 to 34 years which were registered in England and Wales in the last quarter of 1966 and the first quarter of 1967. Information was obtained from the relevant general practitioners about 177 of the 184 subjects, and necropsy data were obtained for 113 of the 124 cases in which a post-mortem examination was known to have been made. Ninety-eight per cent. of the subjects for whom evidence was obtained were known to have been suffering from asthma, and signs of severe asthma (overdistended lungs and small bronchi plugged with mucus) were found in 91% of necropsies (57% of all deaths). Evidence that death might have been due to any other pathological condition was rare. Death was sudden and unexpected in 81% of the subjects (137 out of 171), and 59% of all deaths were referred to coroners. In 39% of cases (67 out of 171) the practitioner had not regarded the patient as suffering from severe asthma in his terminal episode. Corticosteroids and sympathomimetic preparations were the only drugs to have been used by a large proportion of patients. Two-thirds of the patients had received corticosteroids before the terminal episode, but detailed information about their use provided no suggestion that excess use could have been responsible for any large proportion of the deaths. Eighty-four per cent. of the patients were known to have used pressurized aerosol bronchodilators, and several instances of their use in excess were described. Routine inquiries about their use in the hours immediately preceding death were not made, and further evidence is required before their effect can be assessed adequately.