Open Access Research article

Medication prescribing for asthma and COPD: a register-based cross-sectional study in Swedish primary care

Paolina Weidinger12*, J Lars G Nilsson2 and Ulf Lindblad13

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health and Community Medicine/Primary Health Care, The Sahlgrenska Academy at Gothenburg University, Gothenburg, Sweden

2 Skaraborg Primary Care Research and Development Unit, Skövde, Sweden

3 Skaraborg Institute, Skövde, Sweden

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BMC Family Practice 2014, 15:54  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-15-54

Published: 25 March 2014



There is a gap between prescribed asthma medication and diagnosed asthma in children and adolescents. However, few studies have explored this issue among adults, where asthma medication is also used for the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The aim of this study was to examine the relationship between prescribing of medications indicated for asthma and COPD and the recorded diagnosis for these conditions.


In a register-based study, individuals prescribed a medication indicated for asthma and COPD during 2004-2005 (Group A; n = 14 101) and patients with diagnoses of asthma or COPD recorded during 2000-2005 (Group B; n = 12 328) were identified from primary health care centers in Skaraborg, Sweden. From a 5% random sample of the medication users (n = 670), the written medical records were accessed. Primary outcomes: prevalence of medication and diagnoses, reasons for prescription. Secondary outcomes: type and number of prescribed drugs and performance of peak expiratory flow or spirometry.


Medications indicated for asthma and COPD was prescribed to 5.6% of the population in primary care (n = 14 101). Among them, an asthma diagnosis was recorded for 5876 individuals (42%), 1116 (8%) were diagnosed with COPD and 545 (4%) had both diagnoses. The remaining 6564 individuals (46%) were lacking a recorded diagnosis. The gap between diagnosis and medication was present in all age-groups. Medication was used as a diagnostic tool among 30% of the undiagnosed patients and prescribed off-label for 54%. Missed recording of ICD-codes for existing asthma or COPD accounted for 16%.


There was a large discrepancy between prescribing of medication and the prevalence of diagnosed asthma and COPD. Consequently, the prevalence of prescriptions of medications indicated for asthma and COPD should not be used to estimate the prevalence of these conditions. Medication was used both as a diagnostic tool and in an off-label manner. Therefore, the prescribing of medications for asthma and COPD does not adhere to national clinical guidelines. More efforts should be made to improve the prescribing of medication indicated for asthma and COPD so that they align with current guidelines.

Asthma; COPD; Prescribing; Off-label; Guidelines; Cross-sectional study