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Could Having Adult-Onset Asthma Put Your Heart at Risk?

People who develop asthma in adulthood, rather than as a child, have a very different type of asthma. And now, a recent study shows that people with this adult-onset asthma, also called late-onset, may also have a much higher risk of developing heart problems or having strokes.

Comparing adult-onset to child-onset asthma

You can read a more detailed description of late-onset asthma elsewhere on this site. But as a review, let's compare the two types of asthma and how they differ:

  • Severity. Adult-onset asthma tends to be more severe and more difficult to control than asthma that begins in childhood. Asthma attacks occur more frequently and lung function declines more quickly.
  • Cause & triggers. Childhood asthma tends to be linked to allergic sensitivity to environmental substances such as pollens, dust mites, animal proteins and molds. There is often a family history of allergy and asthma as well. Adults who get asthma may not have a family history. Their asthma is also not linked to allergens. Instead, triggers are more often things such as air pollution, chemicals in the workplace, cigarette smoking, respiratory infections and high levels of stress,
  • Gender. Before puberty, asthma is more common in boys than girls. But, in adults, it is women who are more likely to have late-onset asthma. Women's asthma also tends to be more severe than asthma in adult men.

Exercise-induced asthma is another type of asthma and may occur in both childhood and adulthood, but is not directly connected to either late- or early-onset asthma.

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Reviewing the study

The American Heart Association studied 1,269 adults for about 14 years as part of the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort study. Here are some of the details:

  • Average age of participants was around 47 years
  • All participants had healthy hearts when the study began
  • 166 of the subjects had asthma
  • 111 of them had adult-onset asthma, with an average age of diagnosis of 39.5 years
  • 55 of them were diagnosed with asthma in childhood at an average age of 9

In the course of the study, researchers tracked the following cardiac-related (heart) events:

  • Heart attacks
  • Stroke
  • Heart failure
  • Angina
  • Having coronary artery bypass surgery
  • Death from cardiac causes

It's important to note that researchers did filter out people who had other cardiac risk factors, such as:

  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension

What the study found

Let's take a closer look at the results of this study. At the end of the 14 years:

  • People who had late-onset asthma were 57 percent more likely to have had one of the cardiac events listed above than the people who did not have asthma at all.
  • People with child-onset asthma did not appear to have any increased risk of cardiac events over those who did not have asthma.
  • Also, people with adult-onset asthma were more likely to be female (67 percent) and to be overweight (as measured by body mass index, also called BMI).

What it means

There are some limitations to this study. Most of the participants were white, which excludes the normally more diverse asthma population. Researchers also did not adequately collect data on all of the risk factors, including exposure to air pollution and stress levels.

However, the study results do suggest that some of the distinguishing factors of adult vs. child-onset asthma may also play a role in heart disease. The fact that adult-onset asthma is so much harder to treat and control could place you at higher risk for heart problems as well as respiratory problems.

What you can do to keep your heart healthy

If you have adult-onset asthma, it's important to work closely with your health care team to manage not only your asthma, but also any cardiac risk factors you might have.

  • Maintain a healthy body weight. Lose weight, if you need to. Even a loss of 5 to 10 pounds can make a significant difference in your heart health.
  • Make healthy food choices. Eat a heart-healthy diet, consisting of lots of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and whole grains. Limit your intake of prepared foods and sugar.
  • Exercise regularly. Thirty minutes of exercise most days of the week will help keep your heart pumping and strong, not to mention many other health benefits. Even walking or dancing qualify as exercise.
  • Stop smoking if needed. Smoking is not healthy for either your lungs or your heart, so if you smoke, make a plan to quit as soon as possible. It's also wise to avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Manage your stress. Since high levels of stress can affect both late-onset asthma and your heart risk, it makes sense to do what you can to keep your stress levels down. We can't eliminate all stress for our lives, but we can learn how to cope with it. Relaxation, meditation, exercise and other lifestyle changes are all tools to deal with stress.
  • Follow your treatment plan. Certainly, following your treatment plan for your asthma will help you stay healthier. But if you have diabetes and/or high blood pressure as well, it's also important to follow your treatment plan and take your medications for those conditions. Work with your doctor if you're having trouble or experiencing side effects you don't like.

In summary

Although more study is needed, it seems likely that people who develop asthma as an adult may also be at greater risk for heart disease down the road. So, taking action today to make your heart healthier and reduce your risk of a devastating cardiac event is a crucial strategy to your ongoing good health.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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