BACKGROUND--Patients presenting with asthma to emergency departments have lost control of their disease, have significant airways obstruction, and frequently require admission to hospital. Although even one visit is not desirable, there is a more disturbing subgroup who repeatedly visit the emergency department. METHODS--To investigate the reasons for multiple emergency visits, a questionnaire was given to 448 consecutive patients presenting to the two largest adult emergency departments in Ottawa, Canada between November 1989 and April 1991. Within this cohort, those who had made at least three visits in the past year were compared with controls (only one visit in the past year). RESULTS--Although inhaled corticosteroid use increased with multiple visits (indicating increased asthma severity), only 60% of those visiting at least three times in the past year were taking inhaled corticosteroids. Chronic undermedication relative to disease severity was apparent among the cases. The number of visits was associated with nocturnal asthma on a regular basis, work and school absenteeism, frequent visits to their regular physician, and frequent admissions to hospital. Visits were not related to psychological health, environmental allergens/irritants, or lack of perceived asthma severity. CONCLUSIONS--The recommendations of current asthma guidelines are not reaching these patients. The issue of translating guidelines from paper to practice must be addressed before highly effective medications can have an important impact on the frequency of emergency department visits.
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