Jan. 20, 2010 -- Even a mild case of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
(COPD) may have a major impact on the heart, according to a new study.
"This study shows that COPD, even in its mildest form, is associated with
diminished heart function," Susan B. Shurin, MD, acting director of the
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health,
which funded the research, says in a news release. "We now have evidence that
the presence of even mild COPD may have important health implications beyond
Researchers say heart failure caused by lung disease is well documented in
people with severe COPD, but this is the first study to show a link between
mild forms of lung disease and impaired heart function.
"We found that there appears to be a linear relationship between lung
function and heart function, and even a small hit to the lungs negatively
affects heart function as well," says researcher Graham Barr, MD, DrPH,
assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at Columbia University Medical
Center, in the news release.
"These results raise the intriguing possibility that treating lung disease
may, in the future, improve heart function," says Barr. "Further research is
needed to prove whether treating mild COPD will help the heart work
COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. and is strongly
related to smoking. It includes the conditions of emphysema and chronic
bronchitis. COPD makes it progressively more difficult to breathe.
The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, used
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure heart function in 2,816 adults aged
45 to 84. Of the participants, 13% were smokers, 38% were former smokers, and
49% never smoked.
The extent of emphysema in the participants was also determined with
breathing tests and images of the chest.
The results showed the link between lung disease and impaired heart function
was strongest in current smokers. But researchers also found an association
between mild emphysema and decreased heart function in people who had never
"We used sensitive measures to pick up small differences in healthy people,"
says 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."