BACKGROUND: In pre-school children a diagnosis of asthma is not easily made and only a minority of wheezing children will develop persistent atopic asthma. According to the general consensus a diagnosis of asthma becomes more certain with increasing age. Therefore the congruence between asthma medication use and doctor-diagnosed asthma is expected to increase with age. The aim of this study is to evaluate the relationship between prescribing of asthma medication and doctor-diagnosed asthma in children age 0-17. METHODS: We studied all 74,580 children below 18 years of age, belonging to 95 GP practices within the second Dutch national survey of general practice (DNSGP-2), in which GPs registered all physician-patient contacts during the year 2001. Status on prescribing of asthma medication (at least one prescription for beta2-agonists, inhaled corticosteroids, cromones or montelukast) and doctor-diagnosed asthma (coded according to the International Classification of Primary Care) was determined. RESULTS: In total 7.5% of children received asthma medication and 4.1% had a diagnosis of asthma. Only 49% of all children receiving asthma medication was diagnosed as an asthmatic. Subgroup analyses on age, gender and therapy groups showed that the Positive Predictive Value (PPV) differs significantly between therapy groups only. The likelihood of having doctor-diagnosed asthma increased when a child received combination therapy of short acting beta2-agonists and inhaled corticosteroids (PPV = 0.64) and with the number of prescriptions (3 prescriptions or more, PPV = 0.66). Both prescribing of asthma medication and doctor-diagnosed asthma declined with age but the congruence between the two measures did not increase with age. CONCLUSION: In this study, less than half of all children receiving asthma medication had a registered diagnosis of asthma. Detailed subgroup analyses show that a diagnosis of asthma was present in at most 66%, even in groups of children treated intensively with asthma medication. Although age strongly influences the chance of being treated, remarkably, the congruence between prescribing of asthma medication and doctor-diagnosed asthma does not increase with age
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