Background: Knowledge about time trends of disease patterns in society is essential for planning and prioritizing health care resources. Longitudinal population-based studies on asthma are scarce but provide an opportunity to assess incidence, remission and relapse of asthma, and their determinants, which were the objectives of the present study.
Methods: A postal questionnaire was sent on two occasions, 1996 and 2006, to a randomly selected sample of subjects aged 20-69 years in 1996. The response rates were 72% and 83%, respectively, and in total 4479 subjects participated in both surveys. The questionnaire included questions on asthma, respiratory symptoms and possible determinants. Logistic regression was used to assess determinants.
Results: Cumulative incidence of asthma was 2.4% (men 1.9%; women 2.8%, p=0.06). Family histories of asthma (OR 2.31, CI 95% 1.42-3.76), rhinitis (OR 2.25, CI 95% 1.43-3.53) and being an ex-smoker (OR 2.17, CI 95% 1.27-3.71) were determinants for incident asthma. The 10-year remission of asthma was 14.6% and inversely associated with rhinitis. Relapse was found in 38% of eligible subjects.
Conclusions: The current study with high participation rates concludes that the incidence of asthma among adults has been stable in Sweden for the past two decades. Remission was associated with mild disease at study start. Relapse in adults has rarely been reported previously and provide new insight in the course of asthma. Low remission and high relapse further support the view of asthma as a chronic disease; possibly representing fluctuations of the disease over time.