Background: Few data are available on the asthma burden in the general population. We evaluated the level and the factors associated with the asthma burden in Europe.
Methods: In 1999-2002, 1152 adult asthmatics were identified in the European Community Respiratory Health Survey (ECRHS)-II and the socio-economic burden (reduced activity days and hospital services utilization in the past 12 months) was assessed.
Results: The asthmatics with a light burden (only a few reduced activity days) were 13.2% (95% CI: 11.4-15.3%), whereas those with a heavy burden (many reduced activity days and/or hospital services utilization) were 14.0% (95% CI: 12.1-16.1%). The burden was strongly associated with disease severity and a lower quality of life. Obese asthmatics had a significantly increased risk of a light [relative risk ratio (RRR) = 2.17; 95% CI: 1.18-4.00] or a heavy burden (RRR = 2.77; 95% CI: 1.52-5.05) compared with normal/underweight subjects. The asthmatics with frequent respiratory symptoms showed a threefold (RRR = 2.74; 95% CI: 1.63-4.61) and sixfold (RRR = 5.76; 95% CI: 3.25-10.20) increased risk of a light or a heavy burden compared with asymptomatic asthmatics, respectively. Moreover, the lower the forced expiratory volume in 1 s % predicted, the higher the risk of a heavy burden. The coexistence with chronic cough/phlegm only increased the risk of a heavy burden (RRR = 1.88; 95% CI: 1.16-3.06). An interaction was found between gender and IgE sensitization, with nonatopic asthmatic females showing the highest risk of a heavy burden (21.6%; 95% CI: 16.9-27.1%).
Conclusions: The asthma burden is substantial in Europe. A heavy burden is more common in asthmatics with obesity, frequent respiratory symptoms, low lung function, chronic cough/phlegm and in nonatopic females.