Different terms and misunderstanding: what patients call "asthma attack", doctors call "asthma exacerbation"

Asthma control is dependent on the use of mutually understandable asthma terms in patient-physician communications to make sure everyone is on the same page.

The study authors used the Asthma Insight and Management (AIM) survey to provide depiction of asthma exacerbation (they called it "deterioration") terminology used by patients and physicians in the U.S.

Study participants were queried about recognition and understanding of the terms:

- "asthma attack"
- "asthma flare-up"
- "asthma exacerbation"

97% of patients had heard the term "asthma attack" (97%), but only 24% had heard the term "asthma exacerbation" (24%). 71% had heard "asthma flare-up".

In contrast, 77% of physicians used the term "asthma exacerbation" (the most popular term), 70% "asthma flare-up", and 65% "asthma attack" (the least popular term).

Only 38% of patients agreed that "asthma flare-up" and "asthma exacerbation" mean the same thing. In contrast, 94% of physicians said that they mean the same thing.

Patients and physicians use different asthma exacerbation terms, and may not understand each other. Standardizing asthma deterioration terminology should be the goal.

The first author of the article is Michael Blaiss, MD, who runs one of the most popular allergist accounts on Twitter @wheezemd


Patient and physician asthma deterioration terminology: results from the 2009 Asthma Insight and Management survey. Blaiss MS, Nathan RA, Stoloff SW, Meltzer EO, Murphy KR, Doherty DE. Allergy Asthma Proc. 2012 Jan-Feb;33(1):47-53. Epub 2011 Dec 15.

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