Setting: An increase in the prevalence of asthma has previously been reported worldwide. However, the current trend is debatable.
Objective: To assess changes in the prevalence of asthma and respiratory symptoms in a defined study area in Stockholm, Sweden, using identical methods.
Design: A questionnaire was sent by mail in 1996 and 2007 to randomly selected subjects aged 20-69 years. On both occasions, 8000 subjects received the questionnaire, with response rates of 72% and 68%, respectively. Questions on asthma, respiratory symptoms, asthma medication and possible determinants were included. Logistic regression analysis was used to assess determinants.
Results: Ever asthma increased from 8.7% in 1996 to 11.0% in 2007 and physician-diagnosed asthma from 7.6% to 9.3%. The proportion of asthma patients reporting one to two symptoms increased by 14% during the study period. There were few significant changes in the prevalence of respiratory symptoms: wheeze in the previous 12 months (15.9-17.3%), wheezing with breathlessness apart from cold (3.2-4.1%) and recurrent wheeze (8.3-6.8%). There was no major difference in the risk factor pattern between the surveys.
Conclusion: An increase in the prevalence of asthma with few symptoms as well as an unchanged prevalence of symptoms was demonstrated, which may indicate a change in diagnostic practices.