According to new research adults with asthma are twice as likely to have heart disease and older asthmatics have an increased risk of cancer.
They are also more likely than those in the general population to report a number of other chronic medical conditions including arthritis, stroke, osteoporosis and diabetes.
Robert J. Adams, lead author, says as a rule asthma and allergy-related diseases are usually associated with lower cancer levels but he and his colleagues at the University of Adelaide in South Australia, found an increased cancer risk among older patients with asthma.
The Australian researchers examined the prevalence of common, chronic medical conditions in adults with and without asthma and how comorbid chronic health conditions affect quality of life.
The findings are based on a population-based survey of adults living in one of three Australian states.
Of the 10,080 subjects surveyed, 7,619 interviews were completed. Eleven percent had doctor-diagnosed asthma.
The researchers found that adults with asthma were nearly twice as likely as other people to have diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, stroke, cancer, or osteoporosis.
The presence of another chronic medical condition in asthmatics was associated with significant declines in normal levels of activity and quality of life.
Although it is unclear which condition developed first, researchers believe a number of factors may contribute to the co-occurrence of asthma and other chronic conditions.
They say the increased rate of other illnesses seemed to only apply to adults older than 35 years of age, and suggest doctors who treat older adults for asthma need to be aware that other chronic conditions may exist, which should be considered when developing asthma treatment plans.
Study co-author Richard E. Ruffin, MD, FCCP from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, University of Adelaide, says it is possible that respiratory problems related to asthma may limit a patient's activity, which can lead to weight gain and associated chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and sleep disorders.
Dr. Ruffin also says depression is common for patients with chronic conditions and may contribute to further decreased health and quality of life.
He believes young adults with asthma, who are at risk of developing other chronic conditions, should be targeted for prevention of these conditions.
Overall, people with asthma were more likely to report recent impairment in work or usual activities, decreased physical health, and significant impairment in physical quality of life due to illness.
W. Michael Alberts, MD, FCCP, President of the American College of Chest Physicians says asthma continues to be a major public health concern, contributing to decreased quality of life for patients and increased health-care costs for communities.
Dr. Alberts says by understanding how asthma relates to other chronic conditions, medical professionals can create comprehensive and more effective asthma management plans for their patients.
The researchers stress that following the principles of a healthy lifestyle, such as healthy eating, good asthma control with minimal medication, and annual medical exams, will help reduce a person's risk of developing chronic health conditions.
The report is published in the current issue of the journal Chest.