Posted May 6, 2015

TUESDAY, May 5, 2015 (HealthDay News) — After seeking medical treatment in the emergency room for an asthma attack, women are much more likely than men to need hospitalization, researchers report.

Scientists analyzed the likelihood that 2,000 patients treated in the ER for asthma would need to be admitted to the hospital. Although the men and women had similar risk factors for a flare-up of their condition, women were still 60 percent more likely to be hospitalized, according to the study, published May 5 in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

“It’s long been known that after puberty, asthma is more common in women than men,” Dr. James Sublett, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, said in a journal news release.

“Only 10 percent of the women in this study had been seen by an allergist in the last year,” Sublett added. “Those who see an allergist and use controller medications find themselves in the ED [emergency department] much less often, and experience fewer hospitalizations related to their asthma.”

The researchers found that many of the ER patients had poorly controlled chronic asthma. Of the women, 13 percent had been intubated (a breathing tube was placed in their airway) at some point, 36 percent had been hospitalized before for asthma and 16 percent had been admitted within the past year. In comparison, 12 percent of men had been intubated in the past, 32 percent had been hospitalized for asthma and 13 percent had been admitted in the past year.

“It’s important to note the men and women whose charts we studied had certain things in common,” study author Dr. Rose Chasm, a clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine in Baltimore, said in the news release.

“Many were overweight and some were active smokers,” she said. “A fairly high percentage did not have health insurance, although women had it more often than men. After adjusting for all those factors, we found that women were still 60 percent more likely to be hospitalized after being seen in an ED for acute asthma than men.”

There are several possible explanations for why women with asthma attacks may end up being admitted to the hospital more often than men, the researchers said. Women may perceive their trouble breathing differently than men. And female sex hormones and differences in airway hyperactivity and health behaviors may also play a role. The researchers noted that more studies are needed to investigate the exact cause of these gender differences.

— Mary Elizabeth Dallas

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