A randomized trial of peak-flow and symptom-based action plans in adults with moderate-to-severe asthma

Robert John Adams, Karen Boath, Sean D. Homan, Donald A. Campbell, Richard E. Ruffin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: Peak flow meters (PFM) continue to be recommended as an important part of asthma self‐management plans. It remains unclear if there is an advantage in using PFM in people with moderate‐to severe asthma who are not poor perceivers of bronchoconstriction.

Methodology: Prospective, randomized controlled trial of 134 adults with moderate‐to‐severe asthma who did not have evidence of poor perception of bronchoconstriction on histamine challenge testing, who were recruited from inpatients and outpatients of a university teaching hospital. Comparison was made over 12 months of the effectiveness of written action plans using either peak flow monitoring or symptoms to guide management. Subjects were contacted at monthly intervals by telephone for reinforcement and evaluation of use of the action plans, and to provide ongoing education. Spirometry and PD20 histamine were measured at 3‐monthly intervals. Measures of health care utilization and morbidity (asthma exacerbations; hospitalizations; emergency department (ED) visits; days absent from work or school due to asthma; medication use and a self‐rating of asthma severity) were made monthly. A psychosocial questionnaire (attitudes and beliefs, state‐trait anxiety, denial) was given at entry and at 12‐months or at withdrawal from the study.

Results: There were significant improvements for both groups for hospitalizations, ED visits, days off from school or work, and PD20 histamine, but no between‐group differences. Appropriate use of action plans was 85% in the symptoms group and 86% in the PFM group. For all subjects, those who subsequently had an ED visit had significantly higher levels of denial (P = 0.04) and lower scores for self‐confidence (P = 0.04), compared to those who did not have an ED visit.

Conclusions: Use of written action plans, combined with regular contact to reinforce self‐management, improved airway reactivity and reduced health care utilization. However, use of PFM was not superior to symptom‐based plans.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-304
Number of pages8
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • action plans
  • asthma
  • health-care utilization
  • randomized controlled trial
  • self-management


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