Health Risks for Elders With Asthma?

Study Shows Older People With Asthma Report More Health Woes

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on February 13, 2006
From the WebMD Archives

Feb. 13, 2006 -- Older adults with asthma may be more likely than their asthma-free peers to report having other health problems including cancer, arthritis, heart disease, and stroke.

So says an Australian study published in Chest. The report doesn't blame asthma for those conditions. It also doesn't predict those health problems for everyone with asthma.

However, the findings may be good reason for younger people with asthma to take especially good care of their health, write the researchers.

They included Robert Adams, MD, of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital at Australia's University of Adelaide.

Snapshot of Asthma

By telephone, the researchers interviewed more than 7,600 adults living in three Australian states.

Adams' team randomly chose names from an electronic phone book, drawing residents from urban, rural, and remote areas.

Participants were asked if they had ever been told by a doctor that they had asthma, arthritis, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke, or osteoporosis (thinning bones). They were also asked how often, if at all, they had had problems performing their usual activities in the past month.

The data amounted to a snapshot of the patients' self-reported health. Participants weren't followed over time to see who got ill and who stayed healthy. Their medical records weren't checked, either.

Not Just Asthma

In the interviews, 834 participants reported an asthma diagnosis.

People with asthma were about twice as likely to report any of the other health problems compared to those without asthma. They were also more likely to report recent trouble handling their usual activities.

The patterns were mainly seen in older adults. Few people younger than 35 with asthma also had other health problems. Among people 55 and older, diabetes wasn't linked to asthma, the study shows.

Quality of life was lower for people age 35 and older with asthma and another chronic health problem, but not for younger adults.

Why the Pattern?

Does asthma make people more likely to develop other long-term health problems? Or is something else going on?

The study doesn't answer those questions. Cautioning that other studies haven't shown the same results, the researchers outline some possibilities.

People with asthma may seek medical care more often than others. If so, doctors would have more chances to diagnose health problems in those patients, note Adams and colleagues.

Smoking might be a common risk factor among asthma and other illnesses, they add. Age is another influence, since older people are generally more likely to have heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer than younger people.

Young people with asthma may help their long-term health by taking good care of themselves, starting as soon as possible, write Adams and colleagues. Their study doesn't confirm that idea, but healthy lifestyles and good medical care are recommended for everyone, regardless of asthma.

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SOURCES: Adams, R. Chest, February 2006; vol 129: pp 285-291. News release, American College of Chest Physicians.
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