Therapy with inhaled corticosteroids (ICSs) decreases the risk of asthma exacerbations. Recent studies have suggested that ICS therapy also may decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, and perhaps of all-cause mortality. We examined this hypothesis in a large, well-characterized cohort of asthmatic women.
In 1976, the Nurses' Health Study enrolled 121,700 registered nurses, who were 30 to 55 years of age. Participants were asked about “physician-diagnosed asthma” on biennial questionnaires. In 1998, asthmatic participants were sent a supplementary questionnaire on asthma diagnosis and management, including ICS use. Mortality was assessed through 2003, without knowledge of the 1998 (baseline) ICS status. The odds ratios (ORs) for death were adjusted for age, asthma severity, smoking, heart disease, cancer, stroke, aspirin, and statin use.
Among 2,671 eligible women (ie, those who responded to the 1998 supplement [85%], met criteria for persistent asthma, and had not received a prior diagnosis of COPD), 54% reported ICS use. Over the next 5 years, 87 women (3.3%) died (cardiovascular deaths, 22; cancer deaths, 31; other, 34 [including 4 from asthma]). Compared to asthmatic women who did not use ICSs, those receiving therapy with ICSs had lower all-cause mortality (OR, 0.58; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.36 to 0.92). ICS users were at significantly lower risk of cardiovascular death (OR, 0.35; 95% CI, 0.13 to 0.93), but not of death from cancer (OR, 0.66; 95% CI, 0.32 to 1.38) or other causes (OR, 0.62; 95% CI, 0.30 to 1.27).
ICS use was associated with significantly lower cardiovascular and all-cause mortality in women with asthma. These observational data suggest that ICSs may indeed have antiinflammatory benefits beyond the airway, which is a possibility that merits further study.