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30 July 2019updated 05 Oct 2023 8:33am

What does it mean to live with severe asthma?

By Astra Zeneca

There are 5.4 million people in the UK with asthma and approximately 3.6 per cent – about 200,000 individuals – have severe asthma.1 People with severe asthma live with daily symptoms and frequent asthma attacks, often requiring hospitalisation, more so than people with a milder form of the disease.2

Severe asthma is unpredictable and difficult to diagnose.3 Because of this, patients can experience significant delays, sometimes years, before they are given a formal diagnosis and receive the expert care they need.1,4,5,6 In 2014, The National Review of Asthma Deaths revealed that delays in patient referral to specialist severe asthma services are a potentially avoidable cause of asthma death. Five years on, these delays still exist and remain a reason for poor patient outcomes.1,4

Some of the current challenges people with severe asthma face in accessing the care they deserve, along with recommendations to address the unmet need of an efficient severe asthma patient referral pathway, are addressed in the article linked below. Voices of people with severe asthma are quoted throughout. One patient said: “It’s like someone coming up behind you and putting a bag over your head and tightening it. It is that sudden – shocking and panic-inducing.”7

Asthma UK describes severe asthma as “a type of asthma that does not respond to the current treatment that is readily available” and is “characterised by uncontrolled symptoms of wheezing, shortness of breath, and cough, which result in a high burden of symptoms and attacks, often leading to admission to hospital and even death.”1

A survey of 869 adult patients carried out across five European countries in 2015 found that “severe asthma affected a quarter of the respondents daily, with 71 per cent feeling the negative effects weekly.”8

Aspects of people’s lives most affected by severe asthma, as identified in the Uncovering Asthma survey in 2015, include: sport and physical activity (50 per cent), working life (46 per cent), social life (27 per cent), family life (27 per cent) and sex life (18-29 per cent).8

Patients with severe asthma respond poorly to standard treatments and their asthma may not be controlled despite good adherence and regular systemic corticosteroids.9 Asthma attacks can place a substantial amount of strain on healthcare resources and, can result in death.10 As another patient explained: “I was going through three ambulance call outs a week… the advice was always the same: take these steroids, and you’ll be fine.”7

At AstraZeneca we are committed to the scientific discovery and development of new treatments that can improve the lives of people living with asthma. We understand that treatment is only one part of that story, and have therefore established PRECISION, an initiative where AstraZeneca works together with healthcare professionals and patient communities, with the aim to improve the outcomes of people living with severe asthma.

For more information download “Improving patient outcomes in severe asthma: The need for national referral criteria” which has been initiated and fully funded by AstraZeneca. Job code: GB-18085. Date of preparation: August 2019

AstraZeneca commissioned the production of this non-promotional disease awareness article and had full editorial control of the final content.

For a full version of the AstraZeneca report, Improving patient outcomes in severe asthma, click here


  1. Asthma UK. Slipping through the net: The reality facing patients with difficult and severe asthma. 2018. Available from:
  2. Foster JM, et al. “I have lost in every facet of my life”: the hidden burden of severe asthma. Eur Respir J. 2017;50(3) pii: 1700765. doi: 10.1183/13993003.00765-2017
  3. Asthma UK. How is severe asthma diagnosed? Last reviewed 2017.­ing-severe-asthma/how-is-severe-asthma-diagnosed/
  4. Royal College of Physicians. Why asthma still kills. The National Review of Asthma Deaths. London: RCP; 2014. Available from:
  5. AstraZeneca UK Limited. Data on File. Veeva Approval ID: REF- 45055. October 2018.
  6. Menzies-Gow et al. A Charter to Improve Patient Care in Severe Asthma. Adv Ther. 2018; 35(10) 1485-1496.
  7. AstraZeneca UK Limited. Data on File. Veeva Approval ID: REF- 32809. March 2018.
  8. Boston Scientific. Uncovering asthma: Breathing a fresh perspec­tive into managing severe asthma in Europe, 2015. Available from:
  9. Morjaria JB, et al. The role of a soluble TNF alpha receptor fusion protein (etanercept) in corticosteroid refractory asthma: a double blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial. Thorax. 2008; 63(7):584-5914. doi: 10.1136/thx.2007.086314
  10. Haldar P et al. Mepolizumab and exacerbations of refractory eosinophilic asthma. N Eng J Med. 2009; 360(10):973-984. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa0808991

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