A new urine test could help ensure children with asthma receive the level of medication they need to manage their illness better and prevent future exacerbations, according to researchers.
A study, conducted by Queen Mary University of London in partnership with a Polish medical school, investigated the most efficient and non-invasive way of finding the optimum level of anti-inflammatory treatment for asthmatic children.
Researchers reviewed 73 children aged 7-15 years and found that a urine test could accurately measure levels of inflammation within the urine.
“We hope that this test can help indicate the level of steroid medication they actually need”
They analysed levels of prostaglandin metabolites – chemicals released by immune cells that are activated in asthma – and found that one of the “protective” prostaglandins was greatly reduced in those children who went on to have an asthma attack within three months.
The researchers counted the number of days when the children received clinical attention or missed school due to asthma symptoms. The urine samples were compared with those from children who did not have asthma.
Dr Rossa Brugha, co-author of the report and clinical research fellow at Queen Mary’s, said: “The key factor in treating children with asthma is to tailor their medicine accurately, ensuring the right amount of anti-inflammatory medication is being prescribed.
“This simple urine test provides an accurate way to assess chemical markers in the child’s urine, which show the level of inflammation caused by the asthma,” he said.
“When children see their GP for their annual review, we hope that this test can help indicate the level of steroid medication they actually need,” he added.
The UK has among the highest prevalence rates of asthma symptoms in children worldwide. Around one in 11 UK children is currently being prescribed medication for asthma and there were 25,073 emergency hospital admissions for children in the UK in 2011-12.
Dr Bernard Higgins, chair of the British Thoracic Society’s executive committee and consultant lung specialist at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, said the “simple test” could help clinicians in primary care settings to “prescribe tailored treatment”.
“Attacks of asthma are expensive to treat and if this helps us prevent them it could also save vital NHS resource,” he said.
The study (see top-right for abstract) was presented today at the British Thoracic Society’s winter meeting in London.