BACKGROUND Symptoms of disease reported by patients reflect the effects of the disease process within the individual and the person's physical and mental ability to tolerate or otherwise cope with the limitations on their functioning. This study examines the relationship between asthma symptoms, disease severity, and psychological status in patients being managed in routine primary healthcare settings.
METHODS One hundred and fourteen subjects from four GP practices, two inner city and two suburban, were studied. Symptoms were assessed by means of the Asthma Quality of Life questionnaire (AQLQ) and a locally devised Q score, and psychological status with the Hospital Anxiety and Depression (HAD) scale. Spirometric values and details of current asthma treatment (BTS asthma guidelines treatment step) were recorded as markers of asthma severity.
RESULTS Symptoms as measured by AQLQ correlated with peak expiratory flow (r S = 0.40) and with BTS guidelines treatment step (r S = 0.25). Similarly, the Q score correlated with peak expiratory flow (r S = 0.44) and with BTS guidelines treatment step (r S = 0.42). Similar levels of correlation of forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) with symptoms were reported. HAD anxiety and depression scores also correlated to a similar extent with these two symptom scores, but there was hardly any correlation with lung function. Logistic regression analysis showed that HAD scores help to explain symptom scores over and above the effects of lung function and BTS guidelines treatment step. Symptoms, depression, and anxiety were higher for inner city patients while little difference was observed in objective measures of asthma.
CONCLUSIONS Asthma guidelines suggest that changing levels of symptoms should be used to monitor the effectiveness of treatment. These data suggest that reported symptoms may be misleading and unreliable because they may reflect non-asthma factors that cannot be expected to respond to changes in asthma treatment.
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