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Press Release

For Immediate Release: April 24, 1998
Contact: CDC Media Relations (404) 639-3286

Asthma Rates in U.S. Increase

More Americans than ever before say they are suffering from asthma, according to a report released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 1993 and 1994, an average of 13.7 million persons reported that they experienced asthma-related conditions. Based on trends for the past 15 years, CDC estimates that today more than 15 million Americans suffer from asthma. The increase in asthma cases and deaths affects all ages, spans across all racial groups and occurs throughout the U.S. However, higher rates of hospitalization and emergency room visits were reported in the northeast; and blacks reported higher rates of emergency visits, hospitalization and deaths.

In a special CDC report entitled, "Surveillance for Asthma -- United States, 1960-1995", CDC studied asthma from the perspective of how often people reported they had asthma; visited either their doctor's office or the emergency room; or were admitted to the hospital for treatment. Finally, researchers examined the number of asthma deaths that occurred throughout the U.S.

Asthma is a chronic lung disease characterized by temporary obstruction of airflow that leads to breathing difficulty, coughing, inflammation of the airways, and an increased sensitivity to a variety of triggers that can cause breathing difficulty.

CDC researchers also found that the overall picture of asthma is changing, and today's report recommended a comprehensive national monitoring system to identify these emerging trends on a state-by-state basis, especially to understand why some areas have lower rates of emergency room visits and hospitalization.

"Asthma is a complicated illness that adults and children live with daily. To prevent asthma, we need a better understanding to unravel the mysteries of why some people develop it and others do not," said Claire V. Broome, M.D.,Acting Director of CDC. "Promoting healthy home environments and sharing proven prevention strategies with health care providers to define the problems and causes is a key step towards prevention of this serious illness."

Other key findings in this report included:

Self-Reported Asthma Cases

  • Rates increased 75% between 1980 and 1994. This increase was evident across all races; both sexes; and all age groups. Self-reported rates were 50.8 per 1,000 among whites and, and 57.8 per 1,000 among blacks.

Office Visits

  • The number of doctor's office visits to treat asthma more than doubled between 1975 and 1995. These increases were evident in all groups of races, both sexes, and all age groups.

Emergency Room Visits

  • In 1995 there were more than 1.8 million emergency room visits made for asthma. The rate was 48.8 per 10,000 among whites and 228.9 per 10,000 among blacks.

Hospitalization

  • Between 1979 and 1994, hospitalization rates were highest for those from birth to 4 years old and lowest among persons 15-34. Among whites, hospitalization rates were 10.9 per 10,000 and among blacks the rate was 35.5 per 10,000 visits.

Death Attributed to Asthma

  • Asthma-related deaths vary substantially by age group with the highest rates appearing in the elderly. Deaths due to asthma as the underlying cause were 15.1 per million among whites, and 38.5 per million among blacks.

CDC's role in asthma prevention programs is to ensure that proven, comprehensive asthma interventions and surveillance programs are implemented by the states and their partners. CDC shares this information with state health officials so that they can adapt what has worked in other regions of the country to their communities. Through CDC's educational efforts, public health officials will have a greater understanding of the environmental interventions and medical management tools such as patient education, demonstrating behavior changes to avoid asthma triggers, using drug therapies, and frequent medical follow-up to treat and identify asthma patients.

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