WEDNESDAY, May 20, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) increases the risk of all-cause and heart-related death in people with the common heart rhythm disorder known as atrial fibrillation, a new study finds.
However, COPD doesn't increase the risk of stroke, the researchers said.
COPD is a term used to describe the diseases emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Other studies have shown that COPD is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease, but what hadn't been studied was whether COPD was an independent risk factor for stroke, specifically among patients with atrial fibrillation," study author Dr. Michael Durheim, a pulmonary and critical care fellow at Duke University in Durham, N.C., said in an American Thoracic Society news release.
Atrial fibrillation is a known risk factor for stroke and blood clots because when the heart beats irregularly, it allows blood to pool and clots to form.
For the study, researchers looked at more than 18,000 people with atrial fibrillation. Of those, 1,950 had COPD.
Those with COPD were older, and more likely to be current or former smokers. They were also more likely to have other diseases that increase the risk of stroke, including coronary artery disease, heart failure and a prior heart attack, the researchers said.
People with COPD had a 54 percent increased risk of death from all causes, including from heart-related problems such as heart disease and heart attack. However, COPD was not associated with an increased risk of stroke or a systemic embolism.
Systemic embolism occurs when a blood clot in the heart travels to another part of the body and blocks blood flow. This usually occurs in the brain, but can occur in other parts of the body.
Because COPD independently increases the risk of death in people with atrial fibrillation, further research is needed to determine how COPD increases this risk, Durheim said. The findings may change how these patients are treated, he added.
The study was scheduled to be presented Wednesday at the American Thoracic Society meeting, in Denver. Findings presented at meetings are generally viewed as preliminary until they've been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about COPD.