A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine reports the flu increases one’s risk for a heart attack by six within the first week.
Study author Dr. Jeff Kwong, a family physician and epidemiologist from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and Public Health Ontario, and his colleagues looked at 20,000 adults who were diagnosed (and lab confirmed) with the flu in Ontario from 2009 – 2014. Of these adults, 332 had a heart attack, either the year before, after or during the flu. Heart attack risk was 6 times higher the week of the flu and was elevated in those older than 65.
Many of the individuals had cardiac risk factors (diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol) illustrating if one is at risk for a heart attack, a cardiac event may be more likely to occur if they get the flu.
This isn’t the first time a link between heart attack and flu has been suggested. In 2007, Meade et al found a bout with the flu to double the risk of a heart attack and stroke.
Their theory was the flu dislodged fatty deposits sitting along the arteries, allowing them to travel to the coronary arteries or those in the brain resulting in a heart attack and stroke respectively.
Another theory is the cardiac risk factors may worsen during the flu. Blood sugars are difficult to control, hence fats in the blood will follow, and blood pressure may be affected when one is battling an infection.
Inflammation has been linked to heart attack, thus inflammation resulting from the flu may also be a culprit.
The study authors wrote, “Cardiovascular events triggered by influenza are potentially preventable by vaccination.” The flu shot this year has been projected to only be 30% effective against this season’s active strains but is still being recommended this season as hospitalizations and deaths from the flu are reaching record numbers.
A heart attack occurs when part of the heart muscle fails to receive the blood and oxygen it needs. This can occur by arteries supplying the heart muscle to become blocked. Coronary artery disease can be caused by plaque build up from fats, sugars, calcium, fibrin that settle on the blood vessel wall. These plaques can build up and occlude the lumen, obstructing blood flow.
Additionally a heart attack can occur when an unstable plaque rips off, tearing the blood vessel lining causing the body to form an immediate clot. This clot can also be deadly as it obstructs the lumen as well.
Firstly, we must know our risk factors. These include:
Family history of heart disease
Personal history of heart disease
High Blood Pressure
Males over 40
Females who are postmenopausal
and even short stature has been cited as a potential risk factor.
As you can see, many of us can be at risk for heart disease. Therefore secondly, we should be evaluated with an EKG, echocardiogram and any other exams our medical provider and/or cardiologist deem necessary.
Thirdly, reduce your risk by the following:
Maintain a normal blood pressure
Maintain normal blood sugar
Maintain normal cholesterol and lipid levels
Maintain a balanced diet, rich in potassium-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables
Maintain a healthy weight.