Cardiac asthma feels similar to bronchial asthma, but the cause is congestive heart failure. Doctors focus on treating this heart condition, and managing the asthma may involve regular monitoring.

Cardiac asthma is one element of congestive heart failure, which involves the left side of the heart not pumping efficiently. Diagnosing the condition can take time.

When a person has congestive heart failure, their lungs become congested with fluid, and the person may feel unable to catch their breath. This feeling is not usually related to exercise.

Read on to learn more about cardiac asthma, including its symptoms, risk factors, and outlook.

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As the heart pumps, it moves blood filled with oxygen from the lungs to the left atrium of the heart and then to the left ventricle. This is the largest chamber of the heart, and it sends the blood around the rest of the body.

Efficient pumping is important for healthy heart function. If the left ventricle is failing, the heart must work harder to pump blood forward.

Congestive heart failure causes blood flow to slow, creating a buildup of blood waiting to get back into the heart. This can cause swelling of tissues, creating symptoms similar to asthma. For this reason, experts call the respiratory symptoms of congestive heart failure “cardiac asthma.”

Bronchial and cardiac asthma may have several links. Research from 2016 suggests, for example, that bronchial asthma could be a risk factor for heart conditions.

Symptoms of cardiac asthma include:

  • feeling breathless, at rest or during activity
  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • breathing quickly
  • having an increased heart rate
  • being fatigued
  • having nausea

People with cardiac asthma may also have a bluish tinge to their fingertips and lips, as well as confusion and fluid retention, which usually involves swelling of the feet and ankles or the abdomen.

A person may become aware of their condition because they wake up feeling breathless a few hours after going to sleep. Sitting up may ease the breathlessness, while lying flat may make it worse.

A doctor first takes a thorough medical history, listens to the chest, and takes note of any symptoms and when they occur.

They may then ask for:

  • blood pressure tests
  • chest X-rays
  • electrocardiography, which measures electrical activity in the heart
  • blood tests
  • echocardiography, which uses ultrasound waves to create a picture of the heart
  • tests of breathing function

The results might indicate an enlarged heart, an irregular heartbeat, or a prolonged circulation time, which can point to heart failure.

It is important for anyone with a heart condition to have regular checkups.

It is also crucial for a doctor to distinguish cardiac asthma from other types of asthma, because this can affect choices about treatment.

Heart failure can develop at any age, but it is more common in older adults. Cardiac asthma is a warning sign of heart failure.

A different health condition may be the underlying cause of these two issues. Some health-related factors can increase the risk, including:

One in five adults over the age of 40 in the United States are likely to develop heart failure.

Men are twice as likely as women to develop heart failure between the ages of 65 and 85 years. Women are three times as likely to develop the condition in general, but they tend to develop it later in life.

The symptoms may be similar for anyone, but females can experience more severe ones.

Treating cardiac asthma first involves addressing the underlying heart condition.

Monitoring the symptoms is key, and the treatment plan can also include:

  • taking diuretics to remove fluid
  • taking nitrates and morphine to reduce stress on the heart
  • taking one of a group of medications called inotropes
  • having surgery to repair or replace the heart valve
  • avoiding lying flat by keeping the head raised
  • reducing sodium levels in the diet
  • doing daily gentle exercise
  • drinking less liquid

A person may also need to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, do more physical activity, reduce stress, and try new techniques for enhancing mental well-being.

Early treatment can help people with heart failure live longer and have a better quality of life.

Treating cardiac asthma might involve taking prescribed medications, having regular checkups, and making suggested lifestyle changes. Joining patient support groups and getting support from family and friends can also help.

people may find that their symptoms get worse despite these efforts. A person may go on to have breathlessness, gain weight, or have swelling. Anyone who notices a new symptom or a worsening one should contact a healthcare professional.

It is possible to live well with advanced heart failure. For people with this condition, it is important to communicate choices about treatments clearly to loved ones and the medical care team.

Cardiac asthma is a sign of congestive heart failure.

Anyone with symptoms such as breathlessness, swelling of the feet and ankles or abdomen, or a racing heart should contact a medical professional.

It is important to follow a recommended treatment plan and check in regularly with the healthcare team.

There is no cure for congestive heart failure, but treatments are available. Joining patient support groups and receiving support from family and friends may help enhance the quality of life.