To characterize the clinical features of fatal asthma, we retrospectively analyzed the clinical characteristics of patients who died of an acute asthma attack in our hospital during a 15-year period from 1989 to 2003. Twelve patients had fatal asthma during this period, including eight who were dead on arrival in the emergency room (ER) and three who died within 1 hour of admission to the ER. Patients were categorized into three groups according to the clinical presentations during the fatal attack: (1) rapid (< 3 hours) decompensation in four patients; (2) gradual development of respiratory failure over several days in two patients; and (3) acute deterioration after unstable asthma lasting several days in six patients. All patients in groups 1 and 2 had reported previous near-fatal attacks. The proportion of young patients was highest in group 3, with half of them (3/6) younger than 35 years of age. Only one patient in group 3 had had a previous near-fatal attack. Five of the seven patients, with previous near-fatal attacks, had a pattern of decompensation during their fatal attack that was similar to their previous attacks. In conclusion, nearly all patients with fatal asthma in this study died outside of the hospital or within 1 hour after admission to the ER. Patients had patterns of decompensation during the fatal attack that were similar to those of their previous attacks. Early detection of warning signs, early admission to the ER, adequate treatment, and extremely close observation of patients, especially within 1 hour after ER arrival, may prevent or decrease the incidence of fatal asthmatic attack.
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