Background: Rates of death from asthma in the United States increased from 1978 until 1988 and have tended to stabilize since then.
Objective: To identify and evaluate recent trends in asthma mortality in the United States.
Methods: Graphing and tabulation of data from the National Center for Health Statistics identifying asthma (ICD 493) as the underlying cause of death in the 50 United States and the District of Columbia with rates of death from asthma by age, race, and sex and age-adjusted rates of death by race.
Results: Rates of death from asthma in the United States increased from 0.8 per 100,000 general population in 1977 and 1978 to 2.0 in 1989 and 2.1 in 1994 through 1996 but decreased to 2.0 in 1997. Rates decreased for black females and males and for white females in 1997. Age-adjusted rates of death from asthma decreased in 1997 for both blacks and whites. Deaths from asthma in children less than 15 years of age decreased from 191 in 1996 to 154 in 1997, the greatest decrease in any single year since 1971.
Conclusion: Decreases in deaths from asthma in the United States in 1997 have followed stabilization of asthma mortality rates since 1988, although changes in a single year cannot establish a trend. Improved management is the most likely explanation of reversal of previous increases in asthma mortality.