Friday, September 30, 2022

What is the connection between the flu and the heart?

Since "it's just the flu," a lot of people think that they don't see the point in getting flu vaccines. They believe that influenza, also known as "the flu," is just a cold that will go away in a few days. Sadly, the flu usually has more severe symptoms than a cold, including worsened coughing, considerably worse aches and fatigue, and a higher fever. Additionally, the impact of the flu on the lungs might result in dangerously low blood oxygen levels. The flu can therefore result in hospitalisation and even death. This is not only a rare occurrence; according to the CDC, the flu caused 140,000 to 710,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 to 52,000 fatalities per year in the United States from 2010 to 2020. In comparison, about 40,000 people pass away in car accidents each year in the United States.

How does flu affect the heart?  The heart is rarely directly infected by the virus. Instead, the virus's negative effects on the heart are caused by atherosclerosis of the heart's arteries. Atherosclerosis affects many people over the age of 50, yet it hasn't always been recognised in some cases. Less oxygen is delivered to the heart muscle as a result of atherosclerosis, which narrows the arteries and lowers blood flow. The flu's impact on the lungs diminishes blood oxygen levels, which further reduces the heart's ability to receive oxygen. A heart attack or cardiac arrest may result from this (sudden death).

Is this risk more than merely theoretical? According to meticulous research, there is a higher risk of heart disease after a flu episode. In one study, nearly 12% of the 80,000 adults who got the flu and were studied had a major heart event like a heart attack during or soon after getting the virus. 

Even though having the flu definitely raises the risk of a heart attack, what's the evidence that getting a flu shot protects against a heart attack? Six randomised studies including more than 9,000 participants were pooled into one study that was published online by JAMA Network Open on April 29, 2022. The protection was considerably stronger in patients who had recently suffered heart disease. Getting the flu shot decreased the chance of a heart attack and related cardiac events by 34%.

Therefore, I concur with your doctor that getting an annual flu shot is crucial given that you have heart disease. The same is valid for those who have a higher risk of developing heart disease, such as those who are older than 60, smokers, or those who have diabetes or high blood pressure. 

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

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