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Adults with severe asthma may face higher risk of heart attack, stroke

Adults with persistent asthma -- who use daily medication to control symptoms -- may be at increased risk of heart attack or stroke, a new study suggests. Photo courtesy of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a part of the National Institutes of Health
Adults with persistent asthma -- who use daily medication to control symptoms -- may be at increased risk of heart attack or stroke, a new study suggests. Photo courtesy of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a part of the National Institutes of Health

Nov. 23 (UPI) -- Adults with persistent asthma -- who use daily medication to control symptoms -- may be at increased risk of heart attack or stroke, as compared to people without this breathing difficulty, a new study suggests.

The researchers found that the study's participants with persistent asthma had elevated levels of inflammation in their blood despite taking medication.

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And higher levels of inflammation are known to lead to negative effects on the cardiovascular system, contributing to plaque buildup, or fatty deposits, in carotid arteries that carry blood to the brain.

Carotid plaque was found in 67% of participants with persistent asthma versus roughly 50% of people with intermittent asthma or those without asthma, according to the study's findings published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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People with persistent asthma had an average of two carotid plaques, while people with intermittent asthma or no asthma averaged one carotid plaque, the scientists found.

"Many physicians and patients don't realize that asthmatic airway inflammation may affect the arteries, so for people with persistent asthma, addressing risk factors for cardiovascular disease may be really helpful," Dr. Matthew C. Tattersall, the study's lead author said in a news release.

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Tattersall, who is assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison, described the presence of carotid artery plaque as "a strong predictor of future cardiovascular events."

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For their analysis, the researchers used data from participants in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis study to explore the potential link between asthma and carotid artery plaque.

At the time of enrollment, all participants in the MESA study were free from cardiovascular disease.

The researchers reviewed health data for roughly 5,000 adults, averaging 61 years old, who had baseline risk factors for cardiovascular disease and for whom there was carotid ultrasound data.

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The participants were categorized into one of three subgroups: as having persistent asthma; intermittent asthma, defined as having a history of asthma, but not using daily controller drugs; or not having asthma.

At the start of the MESA study, the participants had an ultrasound of the left and right carotid arteries to identify any carotid artery plaque, and blood levels of inflammatory biomarkers interleukin-6, or IL-6, and C-reactive protein, or CRP, were measured.

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