Flu increases the risk of heart attack, study finds

Flu increases the risk of heart attack, study finds

The general connection between heart risk and the flu isn't new, which is why physicians recommend that most people get a flu shot.

They said other respiratory viruses such as pneumonia could increase the risk of heart attack too.

Dr Kwong added: 'People at risk of heart disease should take precautions to prevent respiratory infections, and especially influenza, through measures including vaccinations and handwashing'.

Here is what a new study has found.

Older adults, people who have never had a heart attack, and patients infected with the influenza B virus are especially at risk, the researchers found.

Previous studies have suggested a link between the flu and heart attacks, but these studies had some important limitations; for example, they did not always confirm that patients had the flu using lab tests, according to the new paper.

The study "should not be interpreted as evidence of a lack of vaccine effectiveness, because this study was not created to evaluate the effectiveness of influenza vaccines", the researchers said.

Kwong, a scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto, told Reuters that people should get the flu shot and wash their hands.

The researchers then looked at the rate of heart attacks during a seven-day period when patients had the flu (called the "risk interval"), and compared that with the rate of heart attacks during the year before or the year after this risk interval (called the "control interval"). There are acute triggers - such as infection, someone who is predisposed - but [they] may not have had that heart attack if they had been infection-free.

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"If you have heart disease, you're more likely to have complications and are at greater risk of becoming more seriously ill from the flu".

Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at almost 20,000 adult cases of laboratory-confirmed influenza infection between 2009 to 2014 and identified 332 patients who were hospitalised for a heart attack within a year of a lab-confirmed flu diagnosis.

Researchers zeroed in on the date that lab tests confirmed the flu.

The disease can cause swelling or inflammation in the coronary arteries, which can release plaque and trigger blockages, cutting off blood flow.

The authors say that anyone diagnosed with the flu should be aware of symptoms related to heart attacks and shouldn't hesitate to see a doctor if any are detected.

Nor can the study say what the absolute risk of heart attack would be for any one person who catches the flu, Kwong said.

The most virulent flu strain is influenza B which includes H3N2, or Aussie flu - thought to have killed Bethany Walker, 18, of Applecross in the Scottish Highlands, earlier this month.

The researchers said there were 20 admissions in the first week after being diagnosed, and a subsequent 3.3 admissions per week in the year before and after. Out of that group, 332 were hospitalized for a heart attack within a year.

The proportion of elderly deaths from flu (compared to other causes) is also above average at 8.2 percent. Many of them had risk factors for heart attack, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

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