Asthma may not be an obvious cause of a heart attack – it affects the respiratory system (airways), not the cardiovascular system (arteries).
But studies have shown that asthma can double the risk of a heart attack.
The reason for the link is unclear, but likely boils down to inflammation and swelling.
Asthma, an inflammatory disease of the lungs, causes the lining of air passages to swell, restricting the flow of oxygen through the body. It affects more than 25 million Americans, according to CDC data.
This in turn can affect blood flow.
A study by the Mayo Clinic in 2014 found that anyone who has sought asthma treatment in the last year, or who has suffered regular symptoms for a year, has double the risk of a heart attack.
The study eliminated people who also suffered COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), which is common in asthma sufferers and increases the risk of a heart attack by restricting oxygen flow.
‘People think the lungs and heart and very separate organs but actually they are very inter-related,’ Purvi Parikh, MD, an allergist and immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network, told Daily Mail Online.
‘A severe asthma attack can strain your heart, and the issue is two-fold.
‘First, it is the lack of ability to exhale oxygen. The person is unable to properly oxygenate their body. When we are breathing, we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Asthma sufferers are unable to exhale enough carbon dioxide and that can build up. The heart is then working harder than it usually would to compensate.
‘Second, the heart is unable to send blood to the brain because it doesn’t have enough oxygen.’
FACTORS THAT CAUSED ERICA GARNER – ASTHMATIC DAUGHTER OF LATE BLACK LIVES MATTER FIGURE ERIC GARNER – TO SUFFER A FATAL HEART ATTACK:
Erica Garner suffered a fatal heart attack in December.
It was not her first heart attack.
The young activist suffered her first shortly after giving birth; during her pregnancy she’d been diagnosed with an enlarged heart (peripartum cardiomyopathy).
Asthma is the most common life-threatening condition for pregnant women.
It can lead to high blood pressure, premature birth and death. It can also affect a baby’s development, birth weight, and can cause stillbirth.
Restricted oxygen flow is also the primary causes of peripartum cardiomyopathy, which is exacerbated by the baby’s need for oxygen and essential nutrients.
Dr Parikh agreed: ‘It’s a combination of factors; it’s never just one thing.’
Dr Parikh says she always warns patients that even those who are best medicated have double the risk of a heart attack, and 10 Americans a day die of asthma.
‘I want to drive the point home that you cannot take your asthma diagnosis lightly,’ Dr Parikh said. ‘You need to work with your doctor to find the right medication for you because it can be fatal.’