FRIDAY, Oct. 26, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Older people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are at greater risk for plaque formation in the carotid artery, the large artery in the neck that carries blood to the brain, according to a new study.
Researchers in the Netherlands also found patients with this progressive lung condition are more likely to have vulnerable fatty plaques, which increase their risk for stroke.
"In our study, carotid artery wall thickening was increased twofold in older COPD patients compared with ['control' patients] with normal lung function, and COPD was an independent predictor of the presence of plaques with a lipid core, which are more prone to rupture," said one of the researchers, Dr. Bruno Stricker, professor of pharmaco-epidemiology at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
The study was published online Oct. 26 in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
In conducting the study, the researchers compared the plaque composition of more than 250 COPD patients aged 55 and older to 920 people who did not have COPD. The patients with carotid-wall thickening underwent MRI scans to further examine the plaques in the carotid artery.
The study revealed that the patients with COPD were twice as likely to develop carotid-wall thickening as those without COPD. The researchers noted this risk increased significantly for those with more difficulty breathing.
The study authors concluded that doctors should be aware that patients with COPD are at greater risk for asymptomatic carotid atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
"The results of our study provide new insights into the relationship between COPD and the increased risk for stroke seen in these patients," Stricker said in a news release from the American Thoracic Society.
"Understanding the underlying risk factors for stroke in COPD patients can help identify those at high risk and lead to the development of more personalized preventive treatment strategies targeting this devastating complication," he added.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about COPD.