Prevalence of severe childhood asthma according to the WHO

Respir Med. 2014 Aug;108(8):1234-7. doi: 10.1016/j.rmed.2014.05.015. Epub 2014 Jun 4.


Background: The World Health Organization (WHO) recently proposed a new definition of severe asthma to facilitate standardized characterization of patients, and enable more accurate estimations of the prevalence of severe asthma. The aim of this study was to estimate the prevalence of severe asthma according to the WHO definition in children aged 12 years, in Stockholm, Sweden.

Methods: The birth cohort BAMSE enrolled 4089 children during 1994-96. Parental questionnaires provided information on asthma-related symptoms, diagnosis and medication from 3015 enrolled children at the age of 12 years. Severe asthma was defined as the presence of asthma, as well as continuous treatment with inhaled corticosteroids and long-acting beta-2 agonists, based on information from the Swedish prescribed drug register demonstrating prescriptions of at least 800 μg budesonide daily (or equivalent).

Results: The prevalence of asthma was 11% among 12-year-olds (n = 329). Based on information from the Swedish prescribed drug register, seven children with asthma fulfilled the definition of severe asthma. The estimated prevalence corresponds to 0.23% (95% CI, 0.06-0.4) of the population, or 2.1% (95% CI, 0.5-3.7) of children with asthma. Based on assessed markers of asthma control, 3/7 with severe asthma were considered to have controlled asthma and 4/7 had partly or uncontrolled asthma.

Conclusion: Severe asthma appears rare both among 12-year-old schoolchildren with asthma and in the general population. Combining self-reported information from a population-based birth cohort with data from a drug register seems trustworthy in estimating severe asthma as defined by the WHO.

Keywords: Asthma; Population-based study; Prevalence; Severe asthma; WHO.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Asthma / epidemiology*
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Sweden / epidemiology