The Link Between Heart Disease and Asthma

After a long walk, you suddenly find yourself short of breath. Is the problem caused by asthma or is it a sign of heart disease? It can be challenging to tell the difference since there's a strong link between heart disease and asthma. Only your doctor can tell for sure what's causing your symptoms.

Heart Disease v. Asthma

Heart disease and asthma can cause difficulty breathing, chest pressure, and tightness. They can both cause disrupted sleep due to shortness of breath and can cause chest tightness. But there are some telltale differences.

Using a fast-acting relief inhaler will often alleviate asthma discomfort. If the culprit is a problem with your heart, your inhaler won't make a difference.

Another sign that may indicate heart disease and not asthma includes swelling in your legs and angina, which causes a feeling of deep pressure on your chest. For heart-related symptoms, taking medication called nitroglycerin could provide relief (talk to your doctor first), but this won't help with asthma.

Some people with heart disease might also experience heart failure, which causes fluid in the lungs and leads to wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing. These symptoms can easily be mistaken for asthma. In some cases, it's not an "either" "or" proposition but rather a case of two health issues occurring together.

Research on Heart Disease and Asthma

Scientists have been trying to determine what causes this connection. One study presented at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Annual Meeting in 2011 determined that people with asthma had a 50 percent higher rate of heart disease than the general population. These findings were based on data from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The researchers, who were affiliated with Harbor Hospital in Baltimore, MD, believe that the relationship can be traced to an inflammatory response that occurs in asthma that could also play a role in the development of heart disease.

Some experts also believe that certain people are genetically predisposed to both heart disease and asthma. There's also the thought that having asthma can also cause your body to react to small particles in the air that seem to raise cholesterol levels and increase other heart disease risk factors.

Additionally, there's the chance that taking certain asthma medications can affect the heart and cause it to speed up, which can increase your risk of heart disease.

However, not taking your asthma medications isn't the answer, since you'll put yourself at risk of suffering from a serious asthma episode. Some experts worry that in people with heart disease, mild asthma symptoms could be a precursor to more serious heart problems.

What You Should Know

When you experience symptoms that could be caused by asthma or heart problems, see your doctor for a professional diagnosis rather than trying to figure it out yourself. For people with asthma, early detection of heart disease can be crucial.

Remember to take your asthma medications as directed to manage symptoms caused by respiratory issues. In addition, make healthy lifestyle choices that can keep your risk of heart issues to a minimum. Getting regular exercise (with your doctor's okay), maintaining a healthy weight, and eating a balanced diet can all help prevent your risk of asthma and heart disease, or at least keep these two serious conditions under control.



Sources:  "How Can I Tell The Difference Between A Heart Condition And Asthma?" 12 Aug. 2008. Web. 11 May 2012.

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. "Asthmatics Have Increased Risk for Heart Disease, Diabetes." 2011 Annual Meeting, San Francisco, March 18-22, 2011. Web.