Asthma sufferers twice as likely to have other diseases

Thursday, 16 February 2006

University of Adelaide Department of Medicine researchers based at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital have found that older adults who have asthma are twice as likely to suffer from heart disease and other chronic health conditions, and are at an increased risk of developing cancer.

The study, "Collaborative Health and Well-being Survey (WANTS Study)", by Associate Professor Robert Adams and Professor Richard Ruffin, was published in the February issue of CHEST, the peer-reviewed journal of the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP).

It shows that adults aged older than 55 with asthma are twice as likely to suffer from heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, stroke, cancer or osteoporosis than those who do not have asthma.

"Asthma and allergy-related diseases are usually associated with lower cancer levels. However, our study found an increased cancer risk among patients with asthma," said the study's lead author, Associate Professor Robert Adams. This finding will need to be confirmed in other settings.

Study co-author, Professor Richard Ruffin said, "Asthma's link to other chronic conditions appears to be age-related. As adults with asthma age, the likelihood of developing other chronic conditions becomes greater.

"Clinicians caring for older adults with asthma need to consider comorbid chronic conditions when developing asthma action plans. Young adults with asthma, who are at risk for developing other chronic conditions, also should be targeted for primary or early secondary prevention of these conditions."

The study examined the prevalence of common, chronic medical conditions in adults with and without asthma, and how comorbidic health conditions affect quality of life.

Asthma status, demographics, quality-of-life scores, and information about work/activity impairment were gathered from 7,619 adults in WA, NT and SA. Of those surveyed, 834 adults reported current doctor-diagnosed asthma.

Overall, adults with asthma were twice as likely as those without asthma to report having other chronic conditions, with the most prominent conditions being heart disease and stroke.

For those aged over 55, cancer was significantly more prominent than in adults under age 55. All other chronic conditions, except diabetes, were significantly more common in older adults with asthma. Among adults with asthma aged between 35 and 54 years, arthritis was substantially increased in frequency.

Although it is unclear which condition developed first, researchers believe a number of factors may contribute to the co-occurrence of asthma and other chronic conditions.

"It is possible that respiratory problems related to asthma may limit a patient's activity, which can lead to weight gain and associated chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and sleep disorders," said Dr Ruffin. "Depression is common for patients with chronic conditions and may contribute to further decreased health and quality of life."

The researchers stress that following the principles of a healthy lifestyle such as healthy eating, good asthma control with minimal medication and annual medical examinations, will reduce a person's risk of developing chronic conditions.


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