Heart and soul—er… lungs: New research on asthma and cardiovascular disease risk

Alerts have been pinging at me from multiple sources about the link between asthma and risk of cardiovascular disease (we’re talking heart attack and stroke, primarily). If you’ve been seeing these articles around the web, too, here’s what’s going on.

Researchers have recently released research stating that adults with “late-onset asthma” 1—in this case, a diagnosis of asthma in adulthood, at age 18 or older 1—are at 1.6 times the risk of developing cardiovascular disease than those without asthma 1. This is after adjusting for other things that we know of as heart or vascular (veins and arteries) health risk factors, like demographics including older age, race and gender, or other health concerns 1,2,.

In this study, known as the Wisconsin Sleep Study, which followed a large group of patients from 1989 through 2013, documented that of the 13.1% of participants had asthma. Here’s what they found 1:

  • Non-asthmatics had a 10-year cardiovascular disease (CVD) event incidence rate (development of cardiovascular disease) of 8.9%
  • Early-onset asthmatics had a CVD event rate of only 3.8%
  • Late-onset asthmatics (developing asthma after age 18, recall), had a 12.7% CVD event rate—significantly higher than non-asthmatics.

After adjusting for age, sex, and cardiovascular disease risk factors, adults with late-onset asthma are 57% times more likely to experience a CVD event compared to those without asthma 1.

If you, like me, were diagnosed with asthma before age 18, this is probably good news to hear.that our CVD risk is the same as someone without asthma—the stats above show lower, but it’s important to note that the early onset asthmatics only represented 4.3% of the study population, versus 8.8% of individuals with late-onset asthma 1. This is why, to my understanding of stats (which I am more than open to be corrected on!) those of us with early onset asthma appear to have lower risk but our risk level is really simply the same as those without asthma.

Now, if you’re in the late-onset asthma group, don’t despair. Even though these stats were adjusted for other risk factors, keeping your cardiovascular system healthy still will help you achieve the best results in the long-term—people who eat well, exercise regularly, and keep their lives as low stress as possible are less likely to experience cardiovascular disease. However, those who do and still experience cardiovascular disease, may have milder CVD events and/or recover more rapidly than those who don’t. 3,4

There is still a lot of research to be done in this area. The article concludes to note that there may be associations with this risk between different asthma phenotypes (a phenotype being “how something manifests” or appears, such as age of onset, allergic or non-allergic, exercise induced, etc.). Hopefully this is research that we see done in the near future, as I’m very interested in the results—and how they might change outcomes for people with late-onset asthma in regard to cardiovascular risk. 1

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