Flu and Heart Attacks
March 3, 2018
This flu season has been a tough one for individuals across the country. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, health officials have said that the 2017-2018 season is one of the worst ones they’ve seen in recent years. A new medical study has confirmed that not only does the flu make feel sick, but that it can also increase your chances for having a heart attack – particularly in the first week after being diagnosed.
Researchers at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and Public Health Ontario in Canada conducted the study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Although researchers have suspected for quite some time that there was a connection between cardiovascular deaths and cases of influenza, this is the first study to compare results from flu tests with hospital records to confirm the link.
According to researchers, there are more complications from the flu than the normal ones most Americans worry – or even know – about. Not only does the flu cause fatigue, fever, muscle aches, headaches, stuffy nose and a sore throat, but it can also cause:
- Blood pressure and oxygen levels to decrease;
- Inflammation, and:
- Increased risk for blood clots
Individuals with diabetes, high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol levels are more likely to experience cardiovascular events – and are more likely to have a heart attack when they have the flu. Other risk factors for cardiac events and cardiovascular death include obesity, having a family history of heart disease and smoking tobacco products. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that each person talk with his or her doctor to determine individual risk for developing heart disease.
Individuals with the flu can be at six times higher the risk for having a heart attack within the first week than people without the virus. The CDC estimates that nearly 800,000 Americans have heart attacks every year and approximately 610,000 die because of various types of heart disease. According to Harvard’s Health blog, the body can experience a buildup of plaque inside the blood vessels because of general inflammation caused by the flu virus. If the plaque creates a blockage, it can lead to a stroke or heart attack. Because the body typically responds most strongly to the infection within the first week, the chances for experiencing a cardiac event are higher during that time.
Taking steps to prevent transmission of the flu virus is critical in limiting the associated risks for cardiovascular events and death. Only 30% of the participants in the study received flu vaccines. Even though the flu vaccine is not 100% effective in protecting against every strain of the virus, it offers more protection than anything else. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly every individual over 6 months old can get a flu shot and it’s not too late to get one now. To learn more about the flu vaccine, have a conversation with your doctor.
The study’s researchers confirmed that older individuals with the flu (people age 65 or above) are at the highest risk for experiencing a heart attack – especially ones with certain preexisting health conditions such as diabetes, a pertinent family history or high blood pressure. A representative with the CDC’s Influenza Division says that officials have observed an influx in flu cases spreading through nursing homes, so increasing vaccination rates is particularly important. The CDC notes an overall decline in vaccination rates across the country, which is particularly unsettling news for those in at-risk groups.
One limitation to the study is that it only involved individuals with extreme cases of the flu. Individuals who required emergent medical care – and went to the hospital for treatment – were included, but those with less severe cases were not. As such, the researchers are unsure whether individuals with more mild cases of influenza are also at an increased risk for heart attack. As is usually the best practice, it is advisable to be cautious when it comes to potentially deadly viral infections such as the flu. If you think you are experiencing symptoms, please see a medical professional and get tested right away.
The authors of the study urge other medical professionals as well as the public to learn more about how to help limit flu transmission. The best and most effective way to decrease the chances of getting the flu or passing it on to others is vaccination. Other ways to decrease transmission rates include:
- Cover all coughs and sneezes;
- Throw used tissues away immediately;
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick, and keep your distance from others if you’re sick (stay home from work, school and running errands);
- Wash your hands frequently;
- Clean/disinfect surfaces and objects, and:
- Avoid touching your eyes, mouth or nose
To read more on how you can help prevent the flu from spreading, please visit the CDC website. If you have more questions about whether or not the flu was related to a heart attack that you or a loved one experienced and why a doctor didn’t catch it, please contact a representative at our firm.
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