News release: Twin Cities metro area sees a higher rate of asthma hospitalization than Greater Minnesota

News Release
June 21, 2012
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Twin Cities metro area sees a higher rate of asthma hospitalization than Greater Minnesota

Twin Cities area residents are more likely to end up in the hospital for asthma than those residents living in Greater Minnesota, according to a new asthma report released by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). The report also found that autumn is the most likely time for Minnesota kids to be hospitalized for asthma.

"The good news is that hospitalizations have been trending down and that Minnesota has a lower prevalence of asthma than the nation," said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger. "But we need to do more to address this troubling difference between the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota and to make sure that children and adults are getting the most effective asthma care available."

The report found that Minnesota's adult asthma rate of 7.6 percent, or 302,000 Minnesotans, is lower than the national average of 9.1 percent. The same is true for the childhood asthma rate of 7.0 percent, or 90,000, which is lower than the U.S. rate of 8.4 percent. The rates for adults and children remained relatively stable between 2000 and 2010.

Hospitalizations due to asthma have steadily declined from 9.4 per 10,000 residents or 4,626 in 2000 to 6.7 per 10,000 residents or 3,553 in 2010. However, as mentioned, rates of asthma hospitalizations are 50 percent higher among children and 30 percent higher among adults living in the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area compared with rates for children and adults living in Greater Minnesota. Similarly, rates of emergency department visits for asthma are 70 percent higher among children living in the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area than among children living in Greater Minnesota.

"We are not sure what is causing this difference," said Wendy Brunner, M.S., Ph.D., MDH Asthma Program epidemiologist. "But we know a lot about what can trigger asthma episodes, such as secondhand smoke, mold, pet dander and air pollution, and that theoretically hospitalizations can be prevented when a person's asthma is managed through medication and minimizing exposure to triggers."

MDH is striving to reduce the burden of asthma by working to improve asthma care in clinics and by supporting healthier homes for those with asthma. For example, MDH is working with several local public health departments to improve asthma management and eliminate environmental triggers in the homes of children with asthma living in public housing.

This is the first year that the state's asthma report includes measures of the quality of care that Minnesota clinics are providing for patients with asthma. About half of all adults with asthma had an asthma episode during the past year and about 60 percent of youths had poorly controlled asthma. In addition, 63 percent of adults and 53 percent of youths with asthma report not having an asthma plan, a key tool in asthma management.

"There is clearly room for improvement in asthma care, so we launched an online interactive asthma action plan that health care providers can use to help patients manage and prevent asthma symptoms," Ehlinger said. It also appears asthma is being underdiagnosed in Minnesota. About 10 percent of youths report having wheezing, coughing, or other asthma-like symptoms but do not have an asthma diagnosis.

Another disappointing finding was that after a dramatic decline through the mid-2000s, the statewide asthma mortality rate increased between 2008 and 2010. There were 52 asthma-related deaths in 2008 and 73 in 2010.

In addition, the report also found that autumn is the most likely time for Minnesota kids to be hospitalized for asthma. "We think this may be related to exposures to pollen and respiratory illnesses at school that can trigger an asthma episode," Brunner said. Consequently, MDH recommends that children with asthma have a well-asthma visit with their doctor in the summer.

Commissioner Ehlinger encourages all Minnesotans to be familiar with the symptoms of asthma and proper management of the disease. Symptoms of asthma may include wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and cough, which can be worse at night or early in the morning. Common triggers of asthma symptoms include dust, mold, pollen, air pollution, pet dander and respiratory infections.

MDH is currently in its third year of a five-year, federally funded grant to reduce morbidity and mortality related to asthma. As part of this effort, the Asthma Program conducts asthma surveillance to better understand and describe the burden of asthma in Minnesota.

For more information:

For more information, contact:

John Stieger
MDH Communications

Wendy Brunner
Asthma Program epidemiologist