Researchers have long known that severe cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have diminished the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively. However, a new study funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health suggests that there are strong links between heart function and mild COPD.
The study, published in the Jan. 21 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, is the first research to show that COPD diminishes the heart’s ability to pump effectively even when the disease has mild or no symptoms. This suggests that the changes in the heart occur much earlier than previously believed – even before symptoms appear.
Researchers measured the heart and lung structure and function in 2,816 generally healthy adults who were part of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) Lung Study, an extension of a large, NHLBI-supported study focused on finding early signs of heart, lung and blood diseases before symptoms appear.
Using sensitive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans, researchers uncovered mild abnormalities in heart and lung function in many participants with the link between the two strongest in current smokers who are at risk for both diseases, especially 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, M.D., Dr. P.H., assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, 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." Click here to access the full story on NIH News