Does the flu increase the risk of heart attacks?


As flu season looms, the virus may not only leave people vulnerable to pneumonia, fever and body aches — but it may also increase the risk of heart attack, according to several past studies.

Those who had the flu were six times more likely to experience a heart attack a week after testing positive compared to the year before or after, according to a group of researchers from the Netherlands who presented their findings last spring at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) meeting in Copenhagen.

As the American Heart Association (AHA) stated on its website, one report showed a spike in cardiovascular-related deaths and influenza epidemics that occurred around the same time.

Yet another study published in 2020 found that in more than 80,000 U.S. adults who were hospitalized with the flu from 2010 to 2018, one in eight patients had sudden, serious heart complications.

“Several studies have demonstrated that there is a higher incidence of serious heart disease and heart attacks after a person has had the flu,” Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, chair of the Department of Medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau in Long Island, New York, told Fox News Digital.

“While the mechanism is not fully clear, it may represent an inflammatory response against the influenza virus, which can result in serious consequences — another very good reason that flu vaccination is strongly recommended for adults,” Glatt added.

When someone has the flu, it creates an added stressor on the body, Dr. Frederick Davis, the associate chair of emergency medicine at Northwell Health Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York, told Fox News Digital.

“During the infection, it can lead to elevated temperatures as well as an elevated heart rate, which causes your heart to work harder,” he said.

“This added stress has been found to lead to an increase in cardiac complications after infection with the flu, with increases in heart attacks and congestive heart failure exacerbations,” Davis went on.

“This is especially a concern in someone who is older or has underlying cardiac disease.”

When a person gets the flu, the body has an inflammatory response to fight off the virus, health experts said.

This can potentially create blood clots, increased blood pressure, and sometimes swelling or scarring of the heart, medical experts from UCLA explained on the university’s website. 

This can then create additional risks for those with a history of cardiovascular issues.

“If you have heart disease, fatty deposits called plaque build up in your arteries,” the UCLA website states. “The added stress of a virus can cause the plaque to rupture, resulting in heart attack or stroke.”

A previous report published by the AHA noted that the flu could play a role in plaque ruptures causing heart attacks. 

The 2021 report, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, also said that getting a flu vaccine could reduce the risk of a common type of heart attack in people age 60 and older.

Davis told Fox News Digital that when a person is recovering from the flu, it is important to be aware of some signs that the heart may be affected. 

Shortness of breath with minimal exertion might present after other viral symptoms have improved,” Davis said.

The AHA and American College of Cardiology recommend getting the influenza vaccine to help prevent cardiovascular disease complications due to the virus, especially in people who have coronary or other atherosclerotic vascular diseases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a flu shot for everyone aged 6 months and older. 

Flu season peaks between December and February, although it can extend into the spring, the CDC said on its website.

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