Cardiac asthma is not the same as bronchial asthma, although it causes similar symptoms. Bronchial asthma is triggered by allergies, pollutants, exercise, stress, or lung disease. The small airways in the lungs become irritated and inflamed due to these triggers. This inflammation results in wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. Cardiac asthma can produce similar symptoms, but cardiac asthma is caused by the backup of fluid in the left side of the heart. This fluid backup can be the result of a heart that pumps weakly or because of a leaky valve or a congenital (present at birth) heart defect.
The difference matters because the treatments for bronchial asthma and cardiac asthma differ greatly. Bronchial asthma is treated with oral or inhaled medications that open the airways. The treatments for cardiac asthma depend on the cause (heart failure or leaky valve, for instance), but may include heart medications to control blood pressure and remove excess fluid, proper diet, and modified daily activities. If the cause is a leaky valve or congenital heart defect, surgery may eventually be needed.