The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) indicates more than 25 million people in the United States have asthma, with more and more cases being reported every year. Of those, approximately half have asthma severe enough to warrant at least one “attack” a year, and children–particularly minority children–are among those most commonly affected.
Now, as if asthma wasn’t enough to worry about, the American Heart Association (AHA) released new findings that suggest people with active asthma (asthma that requires daily medication) also are at an increased risk for heart attack due to increased levels of inflammation in the body.
“Physicians should do all they can to control every other modifiable cardiovascular risk factor in patients with asthma, said Matthew C. Tattersall, D.O., M.S., study author, in an AHA statement. Tattersall and his team found that, after other cardiovascular risk were taken into consideration, individuals with active asthma were 60 percent more likely to have a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack, stroke or related condition during a 10-year follow-up than people without asthma.
Both asthma and heart disease are considered conditions related to inflammation in the body. Among people with asthma, the inflammation associated with breathing difficulty also correlated to an increase in inflammation that made blood “stickiness” worsen. Thicker, stickier blood is more likely to build up in the blood vessels and cause cardiovascular issues. What’s more, people with asthma may not realize they are having a cardiovascular event because they symptoms are similar to those during an asthma attack.
“Chest discomfort or pain can be confused as a symptom of asthma, but 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, said Young J. Juhn, M.D., M.P.H., senior author of a second paper included in the AHA release.
Unfortunately there is no cure for asthma, and individuals with the condition will always have airway inflammation that could potentially disguise a heart attack. The AAAAI indicates airways become even more swollen and the muscles around the airways can tighten when something triggers symptoms, like pollen, mold, perfume, smoke, etc. This makes it difficult for air to move in and out of the lungs, causing symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and/or chest tightness.
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Anyone with asthma, especially older adults, should be counseled by their physicians about what precautions to take for potential heart complications. Recognizing asthma triggers is also important, and may be one way to determine if chest tightness is asthma or a heart event. Data indicates fewer than half of asthma sufferers have been taught how to identify asthma triggers for their condition.