According to new research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, adults with persistent asthma have been shown to experience higher levels of inflammation and plaque accumulation in the carotid arteries.
The carotid arteries on both sides of the neck deliver blood to the brain. Asthma sufferers, it was discovered, had greater levels of plaque buildup in these areas, increasing the chance of stroke and heart attack.
Asthma – often triggered by allergic reactions – causes inflammation and airway restrictions leading to difficulty breathing. Over time, chronic inflammation can lead to arterial plaque buildup. This excess accumulation, known as atherosclerosis, can trigger plaque ruptures, potentially resulting in stroke or heart attack.
According to the study’s lead author, Matthew C. Tattersall, D.O., M.S., assistant professor in the department of medicine at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, many people are unaware of the connection between asthma and cardiovascular health. And it is not just patients who are uninformed.
“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,” says Tattersall.
The researchers leveraged data from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) of almost 7,000 adults that began tracking subjects over two decades ago in half-a-dozen locations throughout the United States.
The researchers identified just over 5,000 senior-aged adults who possess baseline risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Carotid ultrasound data were also available for this set of individuals.
The subjects were divided into three groups: those with persistent asthma, those with intermittent asthma, and those without the condition. Out of the identified group, 109 were deemed to have persistent asthma, 388 had intermittent asthma, and the remaining subjects had no asthma condition.
When analyzing the variance in plaque in the carotid arteries between subjects, the researchers found buildup in over two-thirds of individuals with persistent asthma and roughly half with intermittent or no asthma.
According to the authors, after adjusting for multiple factors, like age, prescription medication, and smoking habits, the group with persistent asthma was twice as likely to have plaque in the carotid arteries than those without the condition.
“Participants who have persistent asthma had elevated levels of inflammation in their blood, even though their asthma was treated with medication, which highlights the inflammatory features of asthma. We know that higher levels of inflammation lead to negative effects on the cardiovascular system,” stated Tattersall.
The study is not the first to correlate asthmatics with higher cardiovascular disease susceptibility. In 2019, the American Heart Association released guidelines highlighting the risks of inflammatory conditions, like asthma, on cardiovascular disease. This latest study, however, shows that individuals suffering from severe forms of the condition maintain the highest risks.
While the study conclusions are limited since it was observational, it points to a potential correlation between asthma and poor cardiovascular health markers.
“The most important message from our findings is that more significant forms of asthma are associated with more cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular events. Addressing cardiovascular risk factors through lifestyle and behavior adjustments can be a powerful preventive tool for patients with more severe forms of asthma,” Tattersall said.
The American Heart Association recommends focusing on eight key areas to help maintain cardiovascular health: eating a nutritious diet, getting sufficient physical activity, refraining from smoking, getting enough sleep every night, avoiding excess body fat, and managing blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.
However, cardiovascular health across the U.S. is not in good shape. CDC statistics suggest 40% of Americans are overweight, and as reported by The Dallas Express, a study ranked DFW the 19th most obese and overweight city in the U.S.