Cardiac Asthma, A Dangerous Condition
Cardiac asthma is not merely a specific type of asthma. In fact, it is not an asthmatic condition at all, but only mimics asthma. Cardiac asthma is the result of a malfunction of the heart, which in turn leads to excessive fluid being present in the lung. Cardiac asthma, rather than being a type of asthma, is a condition caused by congestive heart failure, and is a symptom of a heart that is quite possibly about to fail. Unless one has a defect in the heart, such as a leaky valve or an opening between the chambers of the heart, those most apt to suffer from cardiac asthma are the elderly who, for one reason or another, and experiencing congestive heart failure.
It Starts In The Heart - The condition is most often traced back to a defect in the left side, more specifically the left ventricle, of the heart. The ability of the heart to efficiently pump blood is affected to the extent that the load placed upon the heart exceeds the capacity of the heart to carry that load. Pulmonary circulation suffers a blockage because of this and the pressure from that blockage creates a bronchial spasm, resulting in coughing or wheezing associated with asthma. The symptoms are very similar to lung asthma, which is a true asthmatic condition caused by an inflammation in the lungs. However treatment for lung asthma and cardiac asthma differ considerably, so a correct diagnosis of the situation is essential before treatment can begin. If a patient suffering from cardiac asthma is mistakenly treated for lung asthma, his or her condition could worsen considerably, leading to an even more serious heart condition.
Symptoms To Watch For - Wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and superficial breathing are all common symptoms of cardiac asthma, but are symptoms of true asthma as well. Since fluid in the lungs due to congestive heart failure is the real issue, a key symptom is experiencing a shortness of breath while lying down for an extended period, or upon awakening from sleep. This is a very good sign that fluid is present in the lungs, restricting the air passages. The symptoms are usually relieved by sitting up, or standing up and walking around. Another symptom of cardiac asthma is increasing blood pressure coupled with incidents of rapid or irregular heart beat. Also, a symptom which often indicates a problem with the heart is swelling in the ankles, which may become progressively worse during the course of a normal day's activity. Swollen ankles are not normally a sign of an asthmatic condition.
Treatments - Cardiac asthma is usually treatable, but one must remember that it is not an asthmatic condition that requires treatment, but rather a heart condition. Medication may be all that is needed in some cases, and some patients benefit greatly from receiving an increased supply of oxygen. Diuretic pills may be prescribed to help eliminate fluid in the lungs, and nitrates often are prescribed to help the heart work more efficiently. If the heart has a defect however, surgery to repair a valve or a leak is often the only option available. In rare cases, a patient may be suffering from both cardiac asthma and lung asthma, or another asthmatic condition, in which case a more complex course of treatment usually comes into play.
The Bottom Line: If one even remotely suspects they are suffering from cardiac asthma, they should see a physician immediately as it is a sign that the heart is failing. Be aware that ankle swelling and experiencing shortness of breath while lying down are two very good indicators of a heart condition. If the diagnosis determines the problem is actually a true asthmatic condition, which is in a somewhat perverse sense, good news.