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Women twice as likely to die from asthma attack than men

More research into the effect of female sex hormones on asthma is needed urgently, a charity warns as figures show women with the condition are twice as likely to die from an asthma attack than men.

Asthma + Lung UK has also called on GPs to discuss hormonal fluctuations as a potential trigger for worsening asthma symptoms in their patients.

An analysis of death rates by sex by the charity found that between 2014/15 and 2019/20 women in the UK were 1.81 times more likely to die from an asthma attack than men.

And emergency admissions data for England shows that in 2018/19 women aged 20-49 years were 2.53 times more likely to be admitted to hospital for asthma treatment than men, the charity added.

A report from Asthma + Lung UK noted that in childhood, asthma is more prevalent and severe in boys but after puberty, the situation reverses, and asthma becomes more prevalent and severe among women.

Figures collected from the Office for National statistics as well as Northern Ireland and Scottish registries show in the past five years more than 5,100 women have died from an asthma attack compared with just under 2,300 men.

More awareness is needed that fluctuations in female sex hormones, such as through puberty menopause and during periods, can be an underlying cause of symptoms flaring-up or even trigger life-threatening asthma attacks, the report said.

And GPs should consider adjustments to a patient’s medication regimen if symptoms are worse during hormone fluctuations, it recommended. 

Yet women continue to ‘draw the short straw’ when it comes to research funding and without major investment into targeted research looking into the sex-related differences in asthma, more lives will be needlessly cut short, it warned.  


Sarah Woolnough, Chief Executive of Asthma + Lung UK, said: ’Gaps in our knowledge are failing women, leaving them struggling with debilitating asthma symptoms, stuck in a cycle of being in and out of hospital and in some cases, losing their lives.  


‘By understanding the role of sex hormones in asthma, we could transform the lives of the three million women with the condition in the UK and the many millions of women with asthma across the world.’

Mome Mukherjee, a senior research fellow at the University of Edinburgh who has been involved in research into the link between sex hormones and asthma, added: ‘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.’