Can the flu increase my risk of heart attack?

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Becoming ill with the flu is always serious—but for people with certain chronic heart conditions, the flu can turn deadly.

New studies show that some patients are six times more likely to have a heart attack during the week after being diagnosed with influenza in comparison to other times of the year.

It all has to do with the extra stress added to the body of a person who is already sick, according to Dr. Krishna Kishore Bingi, Mon Health Cardiologist.

“The flu is a lot for even a healthy person to recover from,” said Dr. Bingi. “So when a person who has already been diagnosed with heart disease or hypertension, for example, catches the flu, all that added stress increases the risk of life-threatening blood clots forming in heart vessels.”

While the risk of young, otherwise healthy people having a heart attack caused by flu is relatively low, those with high risk factors should take every precaution necessary to stay healthy during flu season, according to Dr. Bingi.

“Every eligible person should get their annual flu vaccination,” said Dr. Bingi. “But those with pre-existing risk factors should know they are among those at the highest risk for developing serious complications—including heart attack— from the flu.”

According to Dr. Bingi, those pre-existing conditions may include (but are not limited to):

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart failure
  • Hypertensive heart disease
  • Pulmonary heart disease
  • Heart valve disorders
  • Arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation
  • Congenital heart defects

Dr. Bingi adds that patients with certain underlying medical conditions may not be eligible for a flu shot, so friends and family members should always get their flu vaccinations to help keep them safe.

“Getting the flu vaccine helps to not only protect you, but also those around you who are highly vulnerable to flu complications,” said Dr. Bingi. “This includes those with certain pre-existing conditions, as well as babies and the elderly.”

Each year, thousands are hospitalized due to serious complications from the flu virus. Influenza becomes severe— and in some cases, deadly—when secondary symptoms attack the body’s already weakened immune system.

In addition to typical flu symptoms like fever, body aches, chills and cough, the CDC lists dangerous symptoms that can appear if the flu is not prevented and/or treated promptly.

These include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Dehydration
  • Worsening of pre-existing, chronic medical problems like heart disease or asthma
  • Brain dysfunction such as encephalopathy (brain disease, damage or malfunction)
  • Sinus problems
  • Ear infections

To get a flu shot, reach out to your doctor or visit a local health department, pharmacy or any of Wedgewood’s Walk-in locations.

Schedule an appointment with Dr. Bingi.