Asthma linked with cardiovascular disease risks

A woman prepares to use an inhaler.

Adults with asthma may be more likely to have underlying risk factors for heart disease, according to NHLBI-supported research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association

Researchers suspected that adults with asthma – trouble breathing often marked by shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness – may have other signs of inflammation that extend past the airways. After partnering with more than 5,000 adults in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), researchers analyzed inflammatory markers linked to heart disease among 109 adults with recurring asthma, 388 with infrequent asthma, and 4,532 without asthma. About half of adults without asthma or who had infrequent incidents had signs of plaque forming in arteries near the neck that carry blood to the brain. Over time, the plaque can accumulate and increase the risk for stroke. About two-thirds of adults with persistent asthma, such as those that regularly used an inhaler, had signs of early plaque accumulation. 

Adults with regular asthma were also more likely to have increased levels of inflammatory markers associated with heart disease, which can be assessed through blood tests. Links between asthma and plaque formation remained after researchers controlled for these and other risks. More research is needed to understand these connections, but the authors encouraged people with asthma to be aware of and control for cardiovascular disease risk factors.