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To provide physicians with current guidelines for the diagnosis and optimal management of asthma in children and adults, including pregnant women and the elderly, in office, emergency department, hospital and clinic settings.The consensus group considered the roles of education, avoidance of provocative environmental and other factors, diverse pharmacotherapies, delivery devices and emergency and in-hospital management of asthma.Provision of the best control of asthma by confirmation of the diagnosis using objective measures, rapid achievement and maintenance of control and regular follow-up.The key diagnostic and therapeutic recommendations are based on the 1995 Canadian guidelines and a critical review of the literature by small groups before a full meeting of the consensus group. Recommendations are graded according to 5 levels of evidence. Differences of opinion were resolved by consensus following discussion.Respirologists, immunoallergists, pediatricians and emergency and family physicians gave prime consideration to the achievement and maintenance of optimal control of asthma through avoidance of environmental inciters, education of patients and the lowest effective regime of pharmacotherapy to reduce morbidity and mortality.Adherence to the guidelines should be accompanied by significant reduction in patients' symptoms, reduced morbidity and mortality, fewer emergency and hospital admissions, fewer adverse side-effects from medications, better quality of life for patients and reduced costs.Recommendations are included in each section of the report. In summary, after a diagnosis of asthma is made based on clinical evaluation, including demonstration of variable airflow obstruction, and contributing factors are identified, a treatment plan is established to obtain and maintain optimal asthma control. The main components of treatment are patient education, environmental control, pharmacotherapy tailored to the individual and regular follow-up.The recommendations were distributed to the members of the Canadian Thoracic Society Asthma and Standards Committees, as well as members of the board of the Canadian Thoracic Society. In addition, collaborating groups representing the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, the Canadian College of Family Physicians, the Canadian Paediatric Society and the Canadian Society of Allergy and Immunology were asked to validate the recommendations. The recommendations were discussed at regional meetings throughout Canada. They were also compared with the recommendations of other similar groups in other countries.An implementation committee has established a strategy for disseminating these guidelines to physicians, other health professionals and patients and for developing tools and means that will help integrate the recommendations into current asthma care. The plan is outlined in this report.This is a joint report of the Canadian Thoracic Society, the Canadian Paediatric Society, the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians and the Family Physician Asthma Group of Canada. It is sponsored by these organizations, as well as the Lung Association and the College of Family Physicians of Canada. It was supported by 3M Pharmaceuticals, Astra Pharma Inc., Boehringer Ingelheim Canada, Ltd., Glaxo Wellcome Canada Inc., Merck Frosst Canada Inc., Novartis Pharma Canada Inc and Zeneca Pharma Inc.