Background: General practitioners (GPs) have a central place in the management of asthma, particularly in the context of acute exacerbations.
Aim: To evaluate the management of asthma exacerbations by GPs, and to investigate the ability of risk factors for near fatal asthma to predict the severity of asthma attacks in the community.
Design of study: A 1-month multicentre cross-sectional survey.
Setting: One thousand and ninety-four GPs of the French Sentinel Network were contacted; 365 responded.
Methods: Asthma exacerbations were classified according to severity at presentation. Univariate and multivariate analyses were performed by logistic regression to identify those factors associated with severe exacerbations.
Results: Exacerbations were described in 219 patients with asthma. Over half (54%) of exacerbations were severe. Peak expiratory flow was recorded during the consultation in 55% of patients who were more than 5 years old. ß2 agonists were prescribed to 93% of patients, systemic corticosteroids to 71%, and antibiotics to 64%. Only 42% of patients had a written action plan for self-management of exacerbations. Risk factors for near fatal asthma, identified in 26% of patients, were not significantly associated with severe asthma exacerbations. Short duration of exacerbation before consultation (<3 hours) was associated with an increase in relative risk of severe exacerbation of 3.38, 95% confidence intervals (CIs) = 1.19 to 9.61, compared with duration of >3 hours.
Conclusion: Risk factors for near fatal asthma identified in previous studies were not predictive of a severe exacerbation in general practice, with the exception of short duration of exacerbation before consultation. This suggests that new methods to predict risk in the outpatient settings should be developed.