Study objectives: Longitudinal data on adult asthma are sparse. The objectives of this study were to determine the incidence of asthma and to establish the risk factors for the development of asthma in subjects who were 12 to 41 years old over an 8-year period.
Design: From birth cohorts over the period 1953 to 1982 in The Danish Twin Registry, 19,349 subjects with no history of asthma, as determined by a questionnaire-based survey in 1994, answered a follow-up questionnaire in 2002. The subjects were regarded as incident asthma cases when answering “yes” to the question “Do you have, or have you ever had asthma?” in 2002, and “no” to the same question in 1994.
Results: A total of 838 cases (4.3%) of new asthma were identified in 2002. The incidence rates of asthma were 4.5 and 6.4 per 1,000 person-years, respectively, among male and female subjects. For all ages, the probability of adult-onset asthma was greater for female subjects (odds ratio [OR], 1.49; p < 0.001), and for both sexes there was a slow decline in probability with increasing age. There was a positive association between increasing body mass index (BMI) and risk of adult-onset asthma applying to both sexes (OR, 1.05 per unit; p < 0.001). Furthermore, positive associations were found between incident asthma and a history of hay fever (OR: male subjects, 4.2; female subjects, 3.7; p < 0.001), eczema (OR: male subjects, 3.5; female subjects, 2.0; p < 0.001), and both (OR: male subjects, 6.9; female subjects, 8.0; p < 0.001).
Conclusions: There is a continuing high incidence of asthma past childhood that is most pronounced among female subjects. Increasing levels of BMI are associated with a greater likelihood of developing asthma for both sexes. A substantial portion of cases of adult asthma is preceded by upper airway allergic symptoms and/or eczema, thus indicating a shared pathogenesis.