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Asthma diagnosis


The effective treatment of asthma depends on the correct diagnosis being made in the first place. In December 2016 the British Thoracic Society (BTS) and the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN) published their latest guidance on asthma, which included an updated section on how to take a structured approach to diagnosis.1 General practice nurses (GPNs) who have the relevant training and competencies are often involved in diagnosing people who present with respiratory symptoms and a clear understanding of how the diagnosis is made is therefore essential. In people who already have a diagnosis of asthma, it is worth reviewing the diagnosis if they are poorly controlled despite asthma treatment – so in essence anyone involved in the care of people with asthma should be aware of how the diagnosis is reached.

This resource, consisting of five assessment questions at intermediate level, tests your knowledge of the diagnosis of asthma in general practice. Complete the resource to obtain a certificate for one hour of continuing professional development to include in your annual portfolio.

Aims and objectives

On completion of this resource, you should have an understanding of:

  • The role of history taking in asthma diagnosis
  • The key features that suggest that asthma as the probable diagnosis
  • How to differentiate between high and intermediate probability cases
  • When to carry out objective diagnostic tests and why
  • The role of reversibility testing


1. BTS/SIGN. British guideline on the management of asthma, 2016

2. RCP National Review of Asthma Deaths: why asthma still kills, 2014

3. Primary Care Commission. A guide to performing quality assured diagnostic spirometry (QADS), 2013

Further reading

BTS/SIGN (2016) British guideline on the management of asthma

NICE (2013) Asthma Quality Standard


Education for Health  

Information on asthma courses