Having Asthma Could Double Your Risk of a Heart Attack

What does asthma, an inflammatory disease of the lungs that causes breathing problems, have to do with your heart? According to new research, active asthma can double the risk of a cardiovascular event like a heart attack, stroke, or related condition, and taking daily medication for asthma can increase the risk of a cardiovascular event by 60 percent over 10 years.

An inhaler, it turns out, can both rescue and endanger.

Asthma and heart disease may at first seem to have little in common — one affects your respiratory system and the other your cardiovascular system. But the two are among the top five most burdensome diseases in the United States, and two studies presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2014 this weekend examined the ties between them.

One study found that those with asthma who require daily controller medication are 60 percent more likely to have a cardiovascular event like a heart attack during a 10-year period. The other finding may be even more striking. Those with active asthma (meaning current asthma symptoms) or asthma medication use, and those who sought treatment for asthma within the previous year, are twice as likely to have a heart attack than those without active asthma.

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“Chest discomfort or pain can be confused as a symptom of asthma,” said senior author Dr. Young J. Juhn, M.P.H., a professor of pediatrics at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, in a statement. “Because asthma increases the risk of heart attack and treatments for each are quite different, patients need to take chest pain and other symptoms of heart attack seriously and seek prompt treatment.”

Inhaler

Juhn and his team looked at data from about 550 residents of Olmsted County, Minnesota, who had a heart attack over the course of four years and compared that information to asthma status. Controlling for patients who had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), researchers found that asthma was significantly linked to an increased risk of heart attack. In those with active asthma symptoms, the risk doubled.

There is a known overlap between asthma and COPD, as well as an association between COPD and the risk of heart attack, the authors note. These findings suggest that even without COPD, doctors need to address the increased risk of heart problems in patients with trouble breathing.

In the second study, researchers looked at the presence of chronic asthma and daily controller medications like inhaled and oral corticosteroids. Researchers gathered data from nearly 6,800 patients from a larger study tracking early signs of heart disease.

Researchers found that asthmatics who take daily controller medications over a 10-year period were up to 60 percent more likely to develop heart disease compared to non-asthmatics.

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Asthma, like heart disease, affects millions. Approximately 25 million Americans suffer from asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s one of the most common chronic condition among children in the United States — 1 in 10 American children has asthma. According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the nation.

The tie between them could be inflammation, or swelling. Both asthma and heart disease are associated with higher levels of inflammation. Inflammation is the immune system’s attempt to heal body tissues after an injury, infection, or other damage. Some inflammation is good, but chronic inflammation, which occurs in many conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, nasal allergies, atherosclerosis, and asthma, can do permanent damage.

“Physicians should do all they can to control every other modifiable cardiovascular risk factor in patients with asthma,” said study author Matthew C. Tattersall, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, in a statement.

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