Having asthma puts you at risk for a host of complications, but you may not yet know about a very serious one—atrial fibrillation or AFib. This is a dangerous type of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, and it can lead to a stroke.
Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology analyzed data from nearly 55,000 adults participating in a long-term health study. About 22% had asthma, but no one had AFib at the start of the study. Researchers found that over a 15-year period, the people with asthma had a greater risk for developing AFib. They were able to quantify the extent of the risk by how well a person’s asthma was (or wasn’t) controlled. People whose asthma was only partially controlled had a 42% greater risk for AFib than the general population, and those whose asthma was considered uncontrolled (see the signs of this below) had a 74% greater risk. And disturbingly, even those with well-controlled asthma had a 19% greater risk for AFib than people without asthma.
While the average person’s risk for AFib increases with age, the researchers didn’t find any evidence that age played a role in asthma patients’ higher AFib risk. They also didn’t find any link between AFib and taking the asthma medications known as beta-2 agonists even though other studies have suggested that these drugs can lead to an increased risk for other types of arrhythmia. However, they concluded that the increased risk for AFib is from a combination of poorly controlled asthma and the frequent need for reliever medication seen in people with more severe asthma.
The bottom line: Following physician advice on asthma management including a good medication plan, not smoking, improving sleeping habits, drinking less alcohol, eating a balanced diet and getting more exercise would improve asthma control and reduce the risk of AFib, said Aivaras Cepelis, MSci, lead author of the study.
REALITY CHECK: SIGNS THAT YOUR ASTHMA IS OUT OF CONTROL
If you have any of the following signs, it’s time for a check-in with your asthma specialist to review your asthma care plan…
- You use quick-relief medications on more than two days a week.
- You find yourself coughing, wheezing and experiencing chest tightness during the day three or more times a week.
- You have to limit your daily activities because of your asthma.