Asthma Could Raise Your Risk for Heart Disease

A recent study suggests that people with persistent asthma are more susceptible to developing plaque buildup in their carotid arteries, which may increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. Learn the link between the lungs and heart disease and how you can improve your cardiovascular health.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a long-term respiratory condition that affects the airways that carry air in and out of your lungs. The airways of a person with asthma can become inflamed and narrowed, which causes wheezing, coughing and tightness in the chest. An asthma attack or flare-up occurs when symptoms worsen. 

What Are the 4 Types of Asthma?

The cause of asthma is unknown, but genetics and the environment can raise a person's risk of having asthma. Different triggers can cause different types of asthma and worsen symptoms, including:
  • Allergic asthma - triggered by allergens that cause an allergic reaction. Allergens can include dust mites; mold; pets; pollen from grass, trees and weeds and waste from pests such as cockroaches and mice
  • Nonallergic asthma - caused by triggers, such as breathing in cold air, certain medicines, household chemicals, infections, outdoor air pollution or tobacco smoke
  • Occupational asthma - caused by breathing in chemicals or industrial dust at work
  • Exercise-induced asthma - occurs during physical exercise, especially when the air is dry

What Happens in the Heart with Asthma?

According to the study, individuals with persistent asthma had double the odds of having excess plaque in their carotid arteries. The carotid arteries are two large blood vessels on each side of the neck that supply blood to the brain, neck and face.

Over time, asthmatic airway inflammation can contribute to artery plaque buildup (atherosclerosis), a condition associated with a higher risk of plaque rupturing, which can lead to heart attack or stroke. The presence of carotid artery plaque is a strong predictor of future cardiovascular events.  

What Are the Symptoms of a Blocked Artery in Your Neck?

When atherosclerosis forms in your carotid arteries, it can block blood flow to your brain, leading to a stroke. The plaque or blood clot that breaks off the wall of an artery can travel through the bloodstream and cause blockage in one of the brain's smaller arteries.

Symptoms usually show when the blockage or narrowing is already severe. Other signs may include a whooshing sound when your doctor checks your artery with a stethoscope or a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also called a mini-stroke. TIA is like a stroke but only lasts a few minutes and goes away within an hour. A stroke is also another sign of carotid artery disease. 

Living with Asthma and Cardiovascular Disease

The good news is addressing cardiovascular risk factors through healthy eating and lifestyle can help patients with more severe forms of asthma manage its inflammatory effects.

If you have asthma or are at risk for cardiovascular disease, The following American Heart Association's Life's Essential 8 are vital measures to help you improve and maintain cardiovascular health.
  1. Include whole foods, plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, nuts, seeds and cooking in non-tropical oils, such as olive and canola, in your diet.
  2. Aim for 2 ½ hours of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week.
  3. Quit smoking traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes and vaping.
  4. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
  5. Keep track of your body mass index (BMI), a numerical value of your weight in relation to your height. The optimal BMI is 25.
  6. Maintain a healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL), known as "good" cholesterol.
  7. Manage your blood sugar to prevent your body from developing insulin resistance.
  8. Keep your blood pressure within healthy levels, less than 120/80 mm Hg.
If you have asthma and have symptoms of cardiovascular disease, seek medical help to understand your condition. Please don't delay care.

American Heart Association

Sign Up for Health Tips

Get our advice and upcoming events about weight, pain, heart and more.

Take a Health Risk Assessment

Our health assessments can help you identify issues and areas to discuss with your doctor.