Pulmonary Disease Limits Heart Function

Photo: X-ray of the upper part of a body, with the lungs

Treating lung disease may
improve heart function; © SXC

Researchers have long known that severe cases of COPD have harmful effects on the heart, decreasing its ability to pump blood effectively. The new study has shown strong links between heart function and even mild COPD. The results suggest that these changes in the heart occur much earlier than previously believed, in mild cases and even before symptoms appear. One in five Americans over the age of 45 has COPD, according to the researchers, but as many as half of them may not even be aware of it.

Using breathing tests and imaging studies of the chest, researchers measured heart and lung structure and function in 2,816 generally healthy adults with an average age of 61 years. Study participants were part of the MESA Lung Study, an extension of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), a large study focused on finding early signs of heart, lung, and blood diseases before symptoms appear.

Sensitive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans uncovered mild abnormalities in heart and lung function in many participants. They discovered that the link between lung and heart function was strongest in current smokers, who are at risk for both diseases, and especially in those with emphysema. The findings also appeared, to a lesser extent, in people with mild COPD who had never smoked.

"These results raise the intriguing possibility that treating lung disease may, in the future, improve heart function," said Graham Barr, principal investigator of the MESA Lung Study and lead author of the paper. "Further research is needed to prove whether treating mild COPD will help the heart work better."

The larger MESA project involves more than 6,000 middle-aged and older men and women from six urban communities across the United States. Participants in MESA come from diverse races and ethnic groups, including African Americans, Latinos, Asians and whites. They have been tracked since enrollment began in 2000. Because the MESA study population is ethnically mixed and covers a broad age range of apparently healthy people, the results of this study may be widely applicable to the general U.S. population.

MEDICA.de; Source: NIH/National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute