Pulmonary function and atherosclerosis in the general population: causal associations and clinical implications

Eur J Epidemiol. 2024 Jan;39(1):35-49. doi: 10.1007/s10654-023-01088-z. Epub 2024 Jan 2.


Reduced lung function is associated with cardiovascular mortality, but the relationships with atherosclerosis are unclear. The population-based Swedish CArdioPulmonary BioImage study measured lung function, emphysema, coronary CT angiography, coronary calcium, carotid plaques and ankle-brachial index in 29,593 men and women aged 50-64 years. The results were confirmed using 2-sample Mendelian randomization. Lower lung function and emphysema were associated with more atherosclerosis, but these relationships were attenuated after adjustment for cardiovascular risk factors. Lung function was not associated with coronary atherosclerosis in 14,524 never-smokers. No potentially causal effect of lung function on atherosclerosis, or vice versa, was found in the 2-sample Mendelian randomization analysis. Here we show that reduced lung function and atherosclerosis are correlated in the population, but probably not causally related. Assessing lung function in addition to conventional cardiovascular risk factors to gauge risk of subclinical atherosclerosis is probably not meaningful, but low lung function found by chance should alert for atherosclerosis.

Keywords: Atherosclerosis; Coronary heart disease; Emphysema; Spirometry.

MeSH terms

  • Atherosclerosis* / epidemiology
  • Carotid Artery Diseases* / epidemiology
  • Coronary Artery Disease* / epidemiology
  • Emphysema*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung
  • Male
  • Risk Factors