Use of a postal questionnaire to estimate the likely under-diagnosis of asthma-like illness in adults.

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BACKGROUND: Asthma is thought to be under-diagnosed. AIM: To estimate how many adults in two practices may have unknown asthma-like illness. METHOD: Results from a postal respiratory questionnaire, sent to 11,206 adults registered with two practices, were linked with practice records to identify patients who may have unknown asthma-like illness. RESULTS: The questionnaire replies were almost identical in both practices; 30.4% of respondents [95% confidence interval (CI) 29.4-31.4] reported wheezing and 14.1% (95% CI 13.3-14.9) had been woken by breathlessness during the previous year. Using a simple scoring system, 1112 (13.8%) of the respondents were judged possibly to have asthma-like illness; 529 (6.6%) had not previously been diagnosed as having asthma and had not received asthma treatments. CONCLUSION: The frequency of asthma-like symptoms was high. A large proportion of adults in the practices may have an unknown asthma-like illness which warrants further evaluation.

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