Intended for healthcare professionals

Medical Practice

Death from asthma in two regions of England

Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1982; 285 doi: (Published 30 October 1982) Cite this as: Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1982;285:1251
  1. British Thoracic Association


    The British Thoracic Association has conducted a confidential inquiry into death from asthma of adults aged 15 to 64 years resident in the West Midland and Mersey regions in 1979. Information concerning the patients, their asthma, and death was obtained by questionnaire, interview with the general medical practitioner and a relative, and from patient records. A panel of three physicians, helped by a pathologist, identified 90 patients as dying of asthma and assessed management and treatment in the last year, last month of life, and the fatal attack. They were generally chronic asthmatics, but unstable, most having suffered severe attacks previously. Corticosteroids and bronchodilator drugs were in general underprescribed or not given in sufficiently large doses. Inhaled corticosteroids and cromoglycate had frequently not been tried. The patient's co-operation with the management of the asthma was satisfactory for only 42 of the 90 patients. For 71 of the patients the fatal attack lasted under 24 hours; of the 77 who died at home or at work, 50 did not receive any medical attention in the fatal attack. Failure to recognise the severity of the asthma by patients, relatives, and doctor often caused delay in starting appropriate treatment. The interaction of several of these adverse factors often contributed to the patient's death. The panel considered that there were potentially preventable factors contributory to the death of 77 (86%) of the 90 patients. Within the limits of retrospective judgment the panel considered that the routine management of the asthma was often unsatisfactory as patients known to suffer severe acute attacks were often not adequately supervised or instructed in the management and treatment of their asthma. From this retrospective inquiry we concluded that closer overall supervision, including careful attention to patient education, earlier and more intensive treatment, and pre-arranged immediate admission to hospital for asthma emergencies is desirable.