Cardiac asthma is not actually a type of asthma, but the symptoms may appear similar to asthma. Cardiac asthma is caused by heart failure in the left side of the heart. The heart failure causes fluid to build up in the lungs (pulmonary edema), which causes coughing or wheezing. Cardiac asthma can be dangerous because the medications used to treat asthma may actually make the symptoms worse and cause heart arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). Cardiac asthma is a symptom of heart failure.
Symptoms of cardiac asthma are the same as the symptoms of the more common type of asthma (bronchial). They include shortness of breath (with or without wheezing), rapid shallow breathing or chest pain, fast heart rate, high blood pressure, or swelling in the ankles. Symptoms often worsen over time and occur after exercise or while sleeping. About one third of elderly people with congestive heart failure suffer from cardiac asthma. It is caused by a buildup of fluid in the lungs or around the bronchial tubes due to left sided heart failure. Heart failure has multiple causes that include anything that might cause a weak or enlarged heart muscle or birth (congenital) heart defects.
Diagnosis will involve a chest X-ray to check for fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema). Heart failure will be confirmed through electrocardiograms (EKG), cardiac stress tests, and imaging tests such as echocardiogram (an ultrasound of the heart) and CT scans. Treatment may include lifestyle changes (monitoring fluid and salt intake and moderate exercise) and medication to get rid of extra fluid and increase the heart’s ability to pump blood. Although there is no cure for cardiac asthma, research to better understand heart failure and design better treatments is ongoing. Talk to your doctor about the most current treatment options. Support groups can also be a good resource of information and connect you with others living with heart failure and cardiac asthma.