Helsingin yliopisto


Helsingin yliopiston verkkojulkaisut

University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006

Prevalence and determinants of respiratory symptoms, asthma, chronic bronchitis and allergic sensitization in Helsinki

A comparison between Finland, Sweden and Estonia. The FinEsS studies - Helsinki I

Paula Pallasaho

Doctoral dissertation, August 2006.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Medicine, Institute of Clinical Medicine and Department of Allergy, Skin and Allergy Hospital, Department of Clinical Physiology and Nuclear Medicine and Department of Pulmonary Medicine, Helsinki University Central Hospital and Lung and Allergy Research, National Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.

Objectives: To assess the prevalence and risk factor profiles of respiratory symptoms, asthma and chronic bronchitis in Helsinki, and to compare these results with those for Sweden and Estonia. Other important aims were to evaluate the prevalence and determinants of type 1 sensitization in Helsinki.

Materials and methods: This presentation is a part of a large epidemiological study in Finland, Estonia and Sweden (FinEsS). The first part of the study consisted of a postal questionnaire in 1995-1996 distributed to subjects in eight study centres. The study population in each centre was a population-based random sample designed to be representative of the general population. The original study sample in Helsinki consisted of 8000 subjects aged 20-69 years, 6062 (76%) of whom participated. Comparisons between countries were based on a narrower age group, 20-64 years, since 64 years was the upper age limit used in the original study in Estonia. Thus, altogether 58 661 subjects aged 20-64 years were invited to participate in Finland, Sweden and Estonia, and 44 483 (76%) did so. The second part of the study was a clinical study with a structured interview, lung function measurements and skin-prick tests with 15 common allergens. This thesis reports only the results of the prick tests in Helsinki. Of the 1200 subjects invited to participate in Helsinki, 643 (54%) consented. Skin-prick tests were performed on subjects ≤ 60 years of age; thus, a total of 498 tests were done.

Results: In Helsinki, the prevalence of physician-diagnosed asthma was 6.6% and of physician-diagnosed chronic bronchitis 3.7% among subjects aged 20-69 years. Comparison of the results between Finland, Sweden and Estonia in subjects 20-64 years of age revealed the highest prevalence of physician-diagnosed asthma in Sweden, 7.8%, while the prevalence in Finland was 5.9% and in Estonia 2.0% (p<0.001). The prevalence of physician-diagnosed asthma among those aged 20-29 years was 7.9% in Stockholm, 6.3% in Helsinki and 2.8% in Tallinn. Asthma-related symptoms were most common in Estonia, and among those with typical asthma symptoms the diagnosis of asthma was least likely in Estonia. Physician-diagnosed chronic bronchitis was reported to be 10.7% in Estonia, 3.1% in Sweden and 2.9% in Finland among subjects aged 20-64 years (p<0.001). Among those aged 20-29 years, 7.6% in Tallinn reported physician-diagnosed chronic bronchitis, while the prevalence estimates were 1.4% in Stockholm and 1.3% in Helsinki. The prevalence of smoking was similar for women in all three countries, around 30%, but large differences in smoking habits were present among men; 60% of Estonian, 39% of Finnish and 28% of Swedish men smoked. Skin-prick tests in Helsinki revealed a high prevalence of sensitization, 46.9%. For subjects aged 26-39 years, the prevalence was highest, 56.8%, and 23.7% were sensitized to at least four allergens. The most common sensitizing allergen was the dog. Sensitization to multiple allergens was associated with a high prevalence of asthma and allergic rhinitis.

Conclusions: Compared with earlier Finnish studies, a higher prevalence of asthma and a lower prevalence of chronic bronchitis were found in Helsinki. The prevalence of physician-diagnosed chronic bronchitis was low in Helsinki, with only one-fifth of subjects fulfilling the symptom criteria for chronic bronchitis reporting having a diagnosis of chronic bronchitis. The prevalences of asthma and chronic bronchitis were similar in Finland and Sweden, but in Estonia physician-diagnosed asthma was less common and physician-diagnosed chronic bronchitis more common, particularly among young subjects. Further analyses revealed that the diagnosis of asthma was favoured in Finland and Sweden, while the diagnosis of chronic bronchitis was more likely in Estonia for subjects with the same symptoms. Allergic sensitization was common in Helsinki. Our findings of multiple sensitization also speak in favour of evaluating the degree of sensitization when assessing allergies.

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Last updated 27.07.2006

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