Heart issues can compound flu danger

December 07, 2022 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

Sometimes the flu sneaks up on us. We suddenly become feverish, weak and achy — with additional symptoms typical of a bad cold, such as a nasty sore throat. It’s an annoying experience for most younger, normally healthy people.

“But for older folks and people with certain medical conditions, such as heart disease, the onset of flu is potentially dangerous,” says Mary Anderson, manager of infection prevention at Edward Hospital.

Research shows people with a history of heart disease or stroke face a high risk of flu complications, such as pneumonia. Because pneumonia hampers the lung’s ability to get adequate oxygen into the blood, the heart has to work harder to make up for it.

The flu, and other viral infections, can affect blood pressure, heart rate and overall heart function. The flu is even associated with an increase in heart attacks and stroke. One study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that heart attacks are six times more likely in the seven days following a flu diagnosis.

Anderson says prevention is the best way to protect your heart from the flu:

  • The best strategy: Get a flu shot. It will reduce your likelihood of getting sick and may reduce the severity of the flu if you do get sick. Ask about getting a high-dose shot if you are 65 or older. In recent years, the flu vaccine reduced flu-associated hospitalizations among adults by about 40 percent. Remember the vaccine won’t be fully effective until about two weeks after vaccination.
  • Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face.
  • When possible, avoid crowds and people who are sick.
  • Get a vaccination for pneumococcal pneumonia, a potentially life-threatening complication of flu, if you’re 65 or older or have certain medical conditions like chronic heart disease.
  • Contact your doctor within 48 hours after flu symptoms appear to ask if antiviral drugs would be right for you. These drugs can make symptoms milder and recovery faster.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people with heart disease or those who have had a stroke continue to take their regular medications and maintain a two-week supply of them during flu season. Consult with your doctor about over-the-counter medications for flu symptoms, as some contain decongestants, which can raise blood pressure.

According to the CDC, adults with heart disease or those who have had a stroke should seek prompt medical attention if they experience any of the following warning signs: difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain/pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, persistent vomiting, or flu-like symptoms that improve but return with a fever and worse cough.

If your flu symptoms are mild and you’re a TV fan, it’s the perfect time to settle in for a little guilt-free binge-watching. Whatever you do, take it easy, drink plenty of fluids and, in another week or so, the bout of flu should be behind you.

Did you get your flu shot? Don't wait! Flu shots are available through your primary care physician's office and at our walk-in care locations.

Learn more about expert heart care at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Learn more:

5 myths about flu shots

How to know if you have the flu (and what to do about it)


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