PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Asthma is a lifelong disease that can cause wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath, but experts say not everyone diagnosed with asthma actually has it.

“Patients are often misdiagnosed with asthma much more often than anyone typically realized,” Dr. Sally Wenzel, of UPMC, says.

Dr. Wenzel is the director of the University of Pittsburgh Asthma Institute at UPMC. She says recent studies have shown 25 to 30 percent of asthma patients are misdiagnosed.

“One out of every three people who come to me with diagnosis of asthma ends up not having asthma,” says Dr. Wenzel.

When Deb Bushe came to Dr. Wenzel for help with her asthma, she learned she had been wrongly diagnosed.

“I was very surprised when I was told I didn’t have asthma,” said Bushe.

After 15 years of treating what she thought was asthma, Bushe says she wasted hundreds of dollars on medications and she quit using her inhaler.

“When I stopped, I got much better,” said Bushe.

According to the CDC, asthma costs the United States $50 billion a year in medical expenses.

One out of 12 people is diagnosed with asthma and that number is growing each year.

According to experts, asthma is often wrongly used to describe a wide variety of breathing disorders.

“I think it is often misdiagnosed because it is so easy to just prescribe an inhaler and just say call me if you have any problems,” said Dr. Wenzel.

Chronic coughing and shortness of breath that seem like asthma can actually be indications of heart failure. Or dysfunction of the vocal chords, which is the problem Bushe has now been diagnosed with.

“Not all that wheezes is asthma,” said Dr. Wenzel. “If you have breathing problems and you have been diagnosed with asthma but you have never had a breathing test, get with your doctor and get a breathing test.”

If you would like to be tested for asthma, UPMC is offering free lung tests on Monday.

Call 412-647-9955 for more details or to make an appointment. Click here for more information.

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