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1m asthma cases misdiagnosed - fear

More than one million people receiving treatment for asthma may have been misdiagnosed, according to a health watchdog.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said studies showed up to 30% of the 4.1m people treated for asthma in the UK did not show any "clear evidence" of the incurable condition and may be receiving unnecessary treatment.

The watchdog has drafted new guidance, its first for asthma, for doctors in England to improve the accuracy of diagnoses, including an array of tests.

Professor Mark Baker, director of clinical practice at Nice, said: "Asthma is a long-term incurable condition that affects millions of people of all ages. If left untreated, asthma attacks can be life threatening.

"However, with appropriate treatment and thoughtful monitoring, most people will be able to successfully control their symptoms and be spared from serious harm.

"Accurate diagnosis of asthma has been a significant problem which means that people may be wrongly diagnosed or cases might be missed in others. Our aim with this guideline is to give clarity and set out the most clinical and cost effective ways to diagnose and monitor asthma based on the best available evidence.

"This new draft guideline provides advice for primary, secondary and community care healthcare professionals on the most suitable tests for accurately diagnosing asthma and how to help people monitor and control their symptoms. We now want to hear from all those who provide care for people with asthma in the NHS to ensure all relevant views are considered for the final guideline."

Asthma is one of the world's most common chronic diseases in childhood, affecting 1.1m children and 4.3m adults in the UK.

Around 10% of the 5.4 million people in the UK with asthma have the most severe form, which leaves them unable to control their symptoms, resulting in frequent attacks, despite taking multiple high-strength medicines.

Nice also said while there was no "gold standard test" available, with patients diagnosed based on a medical history, it recommended spirometry - a measure of airflow obstruction - as the primary method for children over five and adults over 16.

For children under five, doctors should monitor nitric oxide levels until they are old enough for clinical tests.

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