Researchers show link between lung disease and heart function

Jan 20, 2010

A new study from Columbia University Medical Center researchers, has found that the heart's ability to pump effectively is diminished among people with a common lung disease, even in people with no or mild symptoms. Published in the Jan. 21, 2010 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, the research is the first to show a strong link between heart function and mild COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, and it is strongly associated with smoking. COPD often involves loss of lung tissue, called emphysema, as well as narrowed airways, persistent cough, and mucus production, known as chronic obstructive bronchitis. Both of these abnormalities impair the flow of air in the lungs and make breathing more difficult over time.

" caused by lung disease is well documented in patients with severe COPD, but was not thought to occur in patients with mild COPD," said Graham Barr, M.D., Dr. PH., assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center, an internist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia, principal investigator of the MESA Lung Study, and lead author of the paper. "We found that there appears to be a linear relationship between lung function and , and even a small hit to the lungs negatively affects heart function as well."

"This study shows that COPD, even in its mildest form, is associated with diminished heart function," said Susan B. Shurin, M.D., acting director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the research. "We now have evidence that the presence of even mild COPD may have important health implications beyond the lungs."

"These results raise the intriguing possibility that treating lung disease may, in the future, improve heart function," said Dr. Barr. "Further research is needed to prove whether treating mild COPD will help the heart work better."

Research, Which Involved Participants of NHLBI's Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) Lung Study, Shows Lung Disease Has an Important Vascular Component

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

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans, the scientists found mild abnormalities in both heart and lung function in many participants. "We used sensitive measures to pick-up small differences in healthy people," said Dr. Barr. "We demonstrated that even mild COPD is associated with subclinical reductions in heart function, probably since not enough blood is entering the heart due to vascular problems in the lungs. This phenomenon is well described in very severe lung disease but is appreciated for the first time in mild and subclinical COPD and emphysema."

The link between lung and heart function was found to be strongest in current smokers, in whom vascular damage is particularly common, and especially in those with emphysema. However, the association also appeared in participants with mild emphysema who had never smoked cigarettes.

"This study suggests that damage to the vasculature in the lungs may affect heart function and contribute to lung disease; we know that smoking causes vascular damage, which causes end-organ disease in the kidneys and brain," said Dr. Barr. "Our next step is to directly measure vascular damage in the lungs and then determine whether cardiac therapies may help treat lung disease, and vice versa."

The larger MESA project, which is a large cohort study similar to the NHLBI's Framingham Heart Study, involves almost 7,000 middle-aged and older men and women from six urban communities across the United States. Participants in MESA come from diverse race and ethnic groups, including African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Caucasians. Researchers have tracked MESA participants 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.

Many Sufferers of COPD Don't Recognize Its Symptoms

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

Although damage to the airways from COPD is not fully reversible, treatments can substantially improve a patient's daily life. "COPD is one of the big killers in the United States, yet it is unknown to many," said James P. Kiley, Ph.D., director of the NHLBI Division of Lung Diseases. "Unfortunately, many people with COPD don't recognize common symptoms such as having shortness of breath while doing activities they used to be able to do, so it's important that we continue to increase awareness of the signs of COPD and available treatments."

Explore further: Research gives new insights into rare disease of the inner ear

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Genetic variant may control lung function and risk of COPD

Dec 17, 2009

Researchers have discovered evidence that suggests a genetic variant may be associated with better preserved lung function among children with asthma and adults who smoke, according to a new study funded by the National Heart, ...

Smokers' COPD risk is genetic

Mar 11, 2009

It's well known that puffing on cigarettes can eventually leave you out of puff. But why do a quarter of long-term smokers develop serious breathing problems, when others do not? New research published BioMed Central's open ...

Recommended for you

Thyroid disease risk varies among blacks, Asians, and whites

12 hours ago

An analysis that included active military personnel finds that the rate of the thyroid disorder Graves disease is more common among blacks and Asian/Pacific Islanders compared with whites, according to a study in the April ...

The key to easy asthma diagnosis is in the blood

15 hours ago

Using just a single drop of blood, a team of University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers has developed a faster, cheaper and more accurate tool for diagnosing even mild cases of asthma.

Younger adults hit hardest this flu season

17 hours ago

(HealthDay)—The H1N1 flu was the predominant influenza strain in the United States this year, but it packed a lot less punch than in 2009 when it caused a worldwide pandemic, health officials report.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Low Vitamin D may not be a culprit in menopause symptoms

A new study from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) shows no significant connection between vitamin D levels and menopause symptoms. The study was published online today in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopa ...

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

(Phys.org) —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...

Tech giants look to skies to spread Internet

The shortest path to the Internet for some remote corners of the world may be through the skies. That is the message from US tech giants seeking to spread the online gospel to hard-to-reach regions.

Wireless industry makes anti-theft commitment

A trade group for wireless providers said Tuesday that the biggest mobile device manufacturers and carriers will soon put anti-theft tools on the gadgets to try to deter rampant smartphone theft.