Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research

Women in the UK almost twice as likely to die from an asthma attack than men

A report from Asthma + Lung UK states women are more likely to have asthma, need hospital treatment for it and are more likely to die from an asthma attack

Women with asthma in the UK - an estimated three million people - are almost twice as likely to die from an asthma attack than men with asthma, an analysis from Asthma + Lung UK has found. 

Pollen, air pollution and dust are well-known asthma triggers, but what people might not be aware of is that fluctuations in female sex hormones can also cause asthma symptoms to flare up or even trigger life-threatening asthma attacks. There is a link between times of hormonal change (during puberty, periods, pregnancy and peri-menopause) and asthma symptoms. The charity is also encouraging GPs to explore this potential trigger with any of their patients. For example, considering adjustments to a patient’s medication regimen such as increasing the dose of preventer medication if symptoms are worse during hormone fluctuations.

The charity says the current ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ to asthma treatment is currently failing. Investment in specific research could have a profound effect, unlocking new treatments for women or making use of existing treatments better suited to women’s lives.

Differing experiences

In childhood, asthma is more prevalent and severe in boys. However, after puberty, the situation reverses, and asthma becomes more prevalent and severe among women. This explains why rates of admission to hospital in England for asthma are similar by sex in the early teenage years but are 2.5 times higher in women than in men aged 20-49 years. 

Over the past five years, more than two thirds of asthma deaths have been women, with more than 5,100 women dying from an asthma attach compared with under 2,300 men. 

For now, Asthma + Lung UK says the best way anyone can protect themselves against asthma triggers, including female hormones, is to take their preventer medicine every day as prescribed and have an asthma review at least once a year to ensure their medicines are working for them and update their asthma action plan. Keeping a symptom diary can also help identify what’s triggering someone’s asthma, including hormones.

Mome Mukherjee, Centre member, based at the University of Edinburgh has been involved in research into the link between sex hormones and asthma. She said:

Despite the UK having some of the most comprehensive health data in the world at its fingertips, data on sex hormones and asthma remains largely untapped and unexplored. Because of this, women with asthma continue to experience worse outcomes. There is not enough research into why women are more likely to be hospitalised and die from asthma and what treatments new and existing, could help women. The UK has a great opportunity to become a global leader in research on the link between sex hormones and asthma, which would benefit millions of women in the UK and around the world.

Mome MukherjeeCentre member, involved in research into the link between sex hormones and asthma

Women with asthma report

Read the report on the Asthma + Lung UK website

Women with asthma