New risk score helps identify severe asthma cases

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asthma LONDON (Reuters) - A new clinical tool to help doctors identify asthma patients most likely to need hospital treatment could improve the care of patients and reduce costs, researchers said on Tuesday.

The TENOR Risk Score determines the most difficult-to-treat cases by assessing factors such as the patient's age, weight, smoking status, medical history, medications and breathing and exercise tests.

In a three year study published in the European Respiratory Journal, patients with the highest score were 10 times more likely to need emergency treatment or be admitted to hospital than other asthma sufferers.

"The risk score derived is a clinically useful tool for assessing the likelihood of asthma-related hospitalization or emergency department visits," said Mary Miller of Genentech Inc who is a co-author of the study.

About 300 million people worldwide suffer from asthma. It affects the airways, which are small tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. The tubes swell and go into spasm, blocking the passage of air to the lungs.

People with asthma suffer from coughs, wheezing and shortness of breath. A very severe attack can kill. Colds, the flu, cigarette smoke, pollen, stress and pollution can trigger an attack. There is no cure for asthma but it can be controlled with drugs.

The cost of treating the illness in the United States alone is estimated to be more than $11 billion, according to the researchers.

Miller and scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, Harvard Medical School in Boston and the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver collected information and assigned scores ranging from 0-18 to nearly 2,821 patients.

Those with a moderate risk score of 5-7 points had a 3.5-fold higher risk of needing hospital treatment. A score of 8 points or more reflected a 12-fold higher risk compared with patients with a low score of 0-4.

"The ability to predict clinical events is critical for patients, healthcare providers and health systems," said Miller.

© Reuters 2006.