Scots women twice as likely to die from asthma than men, charity says

Women in Scotland are almost twice as likely to die from an asthma attack than men with the condition, a charity has warned.
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Women are also more likely to have asthma and be hospitalised because of it, said Asthma and Lung UK.

More than two-thirds of asthma deaths in the UK in the past five years have been among women.

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In Scotland 407 women have died from an asthma attack, compared to 177 men.

The “stark health inequality” is down to a lack of research into the link between hormones and the condition, the charity said ahead of world asthma day on Tuesday May 3.

There is a lack of awareness that fluctuations in female sex hormones can cause asthma symptoms to flare-up or even trigger life-threatening asthma attacks, Asthma and Lung UK said.

A new report, called Asthma is Worse for Women, will highlight the link between hormonal changes during puberty, periods, pregnancy and peri-menopause, and asthma symptoms.

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The current “one size fits all” approach is failing patients, the charity said, calling on GPs to consider adjustments to patients’ medication when hormones are fluctuating, such as ahead of periods.

Olivia Fulton's asthma has become easier to manage since the link to her periods was recognised.Olivia Fulton's asthma has become easier to manage since the link to her periods was recognised.
Olivia Fulton's asthma has become easier to manage since the link to her periods was recognised.

Olivia Fulton, 36, from Edinburgh, was diagnosed with asthma as a young child.

Her symptoms became more severe around the age of 16, as she was going through puberty, but as she was also taking exams this was put down to stress.

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It was only recently, after seeing a female asthma specialist and then a gynaecologist, that she realised the link between her periods and severe asthma symptoms.

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She has been taking a hormonal contraceptive for almost six years, and has found the effect “life-changing”.

Her asthma is still severe, but it is now much more stable and easier to manage.

Ms Fulton wants to see more research into the impact of hormones on asthma and more awareness of the link.

"I think it’s an inherent issue in our health system, we just don’t talk about these things, maybe because it’s awkward,” she said.

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Calling for more research, she added: “It;s about being able to understand what’s causing the problem and making the asthma worse. If we knew that there might be better ways to manage it.”

Mome Mukherjee, a senior research fellow at Edinburgh University’s Usher Institute, has been involved in research into the link between sex hormones and asthma.

“Despite the UK having some of the most comprehensive health data in the world at its fingertips, data on sex hormones and asthma remains largely untapped and unexplored,” she said.

"Because of this, women with asthma continue to experience worse outcomes. There is not enough research into why women are more likely to be hospitalised and die from asthma and what treatments new and existing, could help women.”

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Sarah Woolnough, Chief Executive of Asthma and Lung UK, said women with asthma have drawn the “short straw” in research funding.

"Gaps in our knowledge are failing women, leaving them struggling with debilitating asthma symptoms, stuck in a cycle of being in and out of hospital and in some cases, losing their lives,” she said.

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