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Study Links Asthma Patients to Increased Risk of Bone Loss

Update Date: May 01, 2014 09:04 AM EDT

Asthma is a long-term lung disease that causes the airways to swell and narrow, leading to symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing and chest tightness. Roughly 26 million Americans suffer from asthma. Even though the chronic condition affects the respiratory system, a new study found a link between asthma patients and risk of bone loss. The researchers believe that the link could be caused by asthma medications.

"We know prolonged use of corticosteroids in the treatment of asthma is a risk factor of osteoporosis, but we haven't had definite data showing the relationship between asthma itself and bone loss," said study lead author, Jae-Woo Jung, MD. "This study has shown a meaningful association between the two conditions even in the absence of previous oral corticosteroid use."

For this study, Jung and colleagues analyzed over 7,000 patients. 433 of them had airway hyperresponsiveness (AHR) or asthma. The researchers measured all patients' lumber spine and femur bone density. They discovered that patients with AHR or asthma also had lower bone density levels, which indicated bone loss. Even though the researchers did not find a cause and effect relationship, they believe that bone loss risk could be due to oral corticosteroids. These medications have been tied to an increased risk of osteoporosis. However, they are also one of the most effective treatment options for asthma and doctors will continue to prescribe them.

"It is difficult to pinpoint the cause of bone loss in this subset of patients. Reasons can include corticosteroid use, low levels of vitamin D or even race. This research has unveiled findings that need be further studied," said allergist John Oppenheimer, MD, Annals associate editor and ACAAI (American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology) fellow. "Asthma is a serious disease that can be life-threatening. It is important that those with asthma and other breathing problems continue their prescribed treatment. It is also imperative that allergists discuss the potential of the disease itself or as a consequence of therapy in asthma sufferers."

The study was published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

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