Breathing difficulty associated with congestive heart failure is known as cardiac asthma. Not considered a truly asthmatic condition, cardiac asthma results from a collection of fluid in the lungs, known as pulmonary edema. Symptoms associated with this condition can mimic those of traditional asthma, so determining the presence of heart failure is essential to appropriate treatment. Heart failure-induced asthma is considered a serious condition which can become life-threatening if proper treatment is not utilized.
Congestive heart failure is characterized by the impaired functioning of the heart muscle, which adversely affects the circulatory system and major organ function. Asthma related to heart failure results from the heart's inability to pump effectively, which negatively impacts proper lung function. As the heart's pumping becomes impaired, fluid begins to accumulate in the lungs, narrowing air passages and reducing the flow of oxygen. The resulting airflow blockage causes the individual to wheeze and develop additional symptoms associated with breathing difficulty.
Individuals with cardiac asthma may wheeze or experience difficulty breathing when exercising, during everyday activities, or at night when lying in bed. The collection of fluid in the lungs induces symptoms that include coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Individuals with cardiac asthma may also develop pronounced swelling of the legs and ankles, an increased heart rate and blood pressure, and anxiety. Those with heart failure-induced asthma may find that they are able to breathe better at night if they sleep sitting upright in a chair, otherwise they awaken uneasy and breathless when they try to sleep lying down.
A diagnosis of congestive heart failure may be made through the application of a variety of tests. Individuals may undergo tests that include a chest X-ray, an echocardiogram, and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test of the heart. A heart catheterization and a cardiac stress test may also be conducted to evaluate heart function and determine any rhythm disturbances within the heart muscle. The existence of a pleural effusion, or fluid buildup around the lungs, may be detected during a physical examination.
Proper diagnosis is essential to the successful treatment of cardiac asthma. Treatment for individuals with cardiac asthma centers on improving heart function. Corrective procedures or surgery may be required to restore heart functionality, such as valve replacement or coronary bypass surgery. Some individuals may receive a single or dual chamber pacemaker or an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator to restore proper heart rhythm and pumping ability. To ease asthmatic symptoms, supplementary oxygen and bronchodilators may be given in addition to treatment administered for the heart failure.
Medications may be utilized as part of an individual’s treatment regimen when a diagnosis of congestive heart failure has been confirmed. Diuretics aid with alleviating fluid collection in the lungs and allow for easier breathing without wheezing. Additional medications may be prescribed to aid with strengthening the heart muscle to regulate its pumping ability and restore functionality, such as digitalis glycosides, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, and beta-blockers. Lifestyle and dietary changes may be required as part of the individual’s treatment regimen.
Individuals of advanced age who have been diagnosed with congestive heart failure and who commonly experience shortness of breath or breathing difficulty are at an increased risk for developing cardiac asthma. Those who have not received a diagnosis of congestive heart failure, but are experiencing symptoms associated with cardiac asthma, should not use traditional asthma medications excessively. Use of such medications by those without asthma may induce heart arrhythmias and worsen existing symptoms further complicating the existing heart failure.