By Lee Bowman
Scripps Howard News Service
March 22, 2005
A new five-question Asthma Control Test is intended to give patients a way to assess symptoms and medicines so they can talk to doctors about making any needed treatment adjustments.
The test is being promoted starting Tuesday through a campaign headlined by Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, who has battled asthma for 20 years even as he became the NFL's fifth-all-time-leading rusher.
"I've experienced firsthand the consequences of uncontrolled asthma; my chest felt as though it was being squeezed and I couldn't breathe," said Bettis, who was first diagnosed with the condition at age 14 after passing out on the field during a high-school football practice in Detroit.
"The ACT is an easy way to gauge how often asthma symptoms interfere with your life. Controlling symptoms allows you to stay active and do more of the things you want to do, which for me is playing football."
Yet the five-time Pro Bowler's experience also underscores why even asthma patients getting the best medical care need to remain diligent. Despite going years with his asthma under control, Bettis suffered a major attack in 1997 during a nationally televised game.
Although there are more types of medication for asthma than ever before, Dr. Norman Edelman, chief medical officer for the lung association, said many patients don't use the best combinations in the right way. Instead, they accept symptoms that they shouldn't have to endure.
"I see many patients with asthma who don't realize that daily use of a rescue inhaler or experiencing frequent symptoms is not normal, and means that their asthma is not being controlled properly," Edelman said. "Studies also show that about a third of all patients don't use their inhalers properly. No one has showed them how.
"Asthma is a complicated disease that needs a careful strategic plan. Each person with asthma ought to have worked everything out with a health-care provider - what are their triggers, what are their optimal medications, their strategies for exercise - to manage their condition."
The test, also sponsored by the drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline, is intended to keep that management plan current. In controlled clinical tests on nearly 500 patients, the test correctly classified a patient's level of asthma control in 76 percent of the cases.
In general, patients who score 19 or less on the 25-point scale test are urged to make an appointment with their doctor or clinic. Even those who score better should talk about the test the next time they see a doctor.
"Many patients, particularly teens and young adults, are in denial about their symptoms," Edelman said. "A 14-year-old boy comes in to see his doctor for something else, and the doctor asks how's his asthma, he says it's OK and that's the end of it. The teen 'forgets' that he's waking up two times a week wheezing or won't say that he can't play soccer because he's out of breath in a couple of minutes. He's accepting a limited life, and the test helps patients realize that."
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