BACKGROUND: The number of asthma related treatment periods in hospital has increased in many countries, particularly among children. The aim of the present investigation was to describe the use made of hospital services by asthmatic patients over a wide range in Finland. METHODS: A total of 255,387 treatment periods for asthma that had occurred between 1972 and 1986 was collected from the discharge register maintained by the National Board of Health (diagnosis 493, International Classification of Diseases). The numbers of admissions, days in hospital, and new occurrences of asthma were calculated by sex and age in relation to the total population at the end of each year. RESULTS: Asthma induced treatment periods in hospital in Finland were 12,860 (277 treatment periods per 100,000 inhabitants) in 1972 and 20,000 (406 per 100,000 inhabitants) in 1986. The annual increase in the number of such periods was 4.7% for men (95% confidence interval (95% CI) 3.5 to 5.9%) and 3.4% for women (2.1 to 4.7%) in relation to population. The most pronounced change was found in those aged 65 years and over, in which the number of treatment periods was found to increase annually by 7.5% (6.0 to 9.0%) for men and 4.9% (3.4 to 6.5%) for women, whereas the smallest increase was found among persons under 15 years with an annual change of 1.3% (0.2 to 2.3%) for boys and 1.1% (-0.1 to 2.4%) for girls. Although the number of asthma related treatment periods increased, that of new patients with asthma did not. An average of 114 new male asthmatic patients per 100,000 men were treated in hospitals annually between 1977 and 1986, whereas the figure for women was 115; the annual change during this 10 year period was 0.2% (-0.8 to 1.2%) for men and -0.8% (-1.8 to 0.2%) for women. CONCLUSIONS: The increase in the number of asthma related hospital treatment periods seemed attributable to the frequent treatment of the same patients. Treatment periods for persons aged 40 years or over were found to increase most, suggesting that the treatment of these asthmatic patients should be optimised and its organisation improved.
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