Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Controlled investigation of deaths from asthma in hospitals in the North East Thames region.

Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1987; 294 doi: (Published 16 May 1987) Cite this as: Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1987;294:1255
  1. J Eason,
  2. H L Markowe


    One hundred and thirty deaths definitely or potentially due to asthma occurring in hospitals in the North East Thames region over one year were identified from death certificates and Hospital Activity Analysis records. Thirty five of these deaths were considered after independent assessment to have been directly due to asthma. Control patients who left hospital alive after acute asthma attacks were selected and matched with cases for sex, age, and hospital. Management was compared in the two groups. Inadequate monitoring, including failure to monitor arterial blood gas values, and inadequate use of nebulised beta agonists occurred significantly more often in fatal cases. Use of sedation, inadequate treatment with steroids, exposure to potentially toxic doses of aminophylline, and inadequate clinical assessment were more common in cases than controls, but not significantly so. Failure to institute artificial ventilation contributed to seven deaths. Assessors considered important defects in management to have occurred in 83% (29/35) of the cases and 40% (14/35) of the controls. Nevertheless, most of the hospital deaths (19/35) were considered not to have been preventable. Eight other deaths in the region were attributed to the complications of asthma or its treatment. Three of these were associated with gastrointestinal bleeding and one with perforation of a duodenal ulcer. Before considering policies aimed at speeding admission to hospital of patients with acute attacks of asthma it is crucial that the general standard of hospital care offered to all patients with asthma should be improved.