Half a million UK children may be misdiagnosed with asthma

More than half a million British children who have been diagnosed with asthma may need a second opinion, according to new research. Parents are expected to pursue clinical negligence compensation as a result.

Researchers from the University Medical Centre in Utrecht analysed the medical records of 656 children diagnosed with asthma at four health centres across the Netherlands. More than half (53 percent) were found to have no clinical signs of the condition.

The UK has one of the highest rates of asthma in Europe. Around one million children and 4.3 million adults currently receive treatment for the condition.

Last year the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) warned that around one third of diagnosed adults showed no clinical signs of asthma and had probably been misdiagnosed. The Dutch research now casts doubt on the accuracy of the diagnosis given to half a million children, whose symptoms may be due to other respiratory illnesses and allergies.

Why are so many children misdiagnosed with asthma?

Too many doctors are basing their diagnosis on a reported patient history of wheezing, coughs and breathing problems, according to the Dutch research. Under international medical guidelines, cases of suspected asthma should be confirmed using clinical lung function tests which give a more definitive finding.

The most reliable test for asthma is through a peak flow spirometer, a device that measures how much air a person can breathe out in one forced breath. However, a spirometer had been used in just 16 percent of cases, researchers found.

Why is misdiagnosis a problem?

Wrongly labelling a child as asthmatic leads to unnecessary treatment. This is a significant concern because some of the drugs used to treat asthma can have adverse side effects including throat infections, muscle cramps, vomiting and nausea.

What are the implications for parents and their children?

The fact that only 16 percent of asthma diagnoses were based on adherence to international guidelines is concerning. What is less clear, is why doctors in the Netherlands were failing to refer patients for spirometry or other lung function tests. Figures in the UK may be better, as spirometry is freely available at most GP surgeries.

They may also be worse. The Netherlands consistently tops the polls as the best European country to live in for healthcare, so the problem could be more pervasive for British children. Further research is needed to confirm the possible number of asthma misdiagnosis cases in the UK.

What next for asthma diagnosis?

On the back of the research, NICE is updating its guidelines to improve asthma diagnosis in children and young people. The guidelines, due to be published later this year, are expected to advise medical professionals to base their diagnosis on sound clinical tests as well as checking for physical symptoms. The guidelines will also recommend the most suitable tests for children of different ages.

Asthma is a long-term incurable lung condition that can be life threatening. It is recommended that children with an asthma diagnosis continue taking their medication and consult with a doctor.

Can you make a compensation claim for an asthma diagnosis?

If you or your child have suffered as a result of a clinical misdiagnosis, you may be entitled to make a misdiagnosis compensation claim. Call us on 0800 612 7456 for more information.