CINCINNATI—Serious bouts of flu or respiratory infections can lead to heart attack, a top University of Cincinnati (UC) cardiologist warns.
Inflammation from tissue infection in the respiratory track or mouth may create biochemical changes in the plaque that lines blood vessel walls—triggering vascular disease such as heart attack or stroke.
“Bronchitis and influenza, among other infections, have been associated with development of heart attack,” says Neal Weintraub, MD, director of UC’s cardiology division. “In fact, the risk of heart attack is increased several fold in elderly people suffering from acute respiratory track infection. In addition, chronic periodontal (gum) disease may also increase your risk of heart disease.”
Chronic infections activate the immune system, the body’s natural response for fending off invading microorganisms. However, Weintraub explains, the activated immune response may also trigger inflammation in the blood vessel wall. This, in turn, can disturb otherwise inactive vascular lesions, resulting in tissue disruption and clot formation that block blood flow to the heart or brain and cause heart attack or stroke.
Prevention is the best advice, says Weintraub. It’s wise to:
- Pay attention to your cardiovascular health each day. Exercise, eat healthily and check and manage your cholesterol and high blood pressure.
- Don’t smoke, and avoid exposure to second-hand smoke and other environmental pollutants. Smoking not only harms the blood vessels, it also increases your risk for developing upper respiratory infections and gum disease.
- Visit your dentist regularly.
- Get a flu shot and avoid close contact with people suffering from colds or flu.
Receiving the flu vaccine not only reduces the risk of serious respiratory infections, it may also reduce your risk for developing cardiovascular problems, including heart attacks, Weintraub says.
He offers these additional heart-health tips:
- See a doctor when you’re sick. Remember that heart attack and stroke may accompany infectious illnesses, so it’s important to keep the subtle symptoms of an impending heart attack or stroke in mind during flu season.
- Also, seek emergency treatment if you’re so breathless you can’t walk and talk at the same time.
- Don’t ignore pain or a feeling of pressure in your chest. Heart attacks can happen without crushing pain.
Strenuous exercise like shoveling snow, carrying heavy packages upstairs and shopping for hours can add stress to your heart. And so can drinking too much caffeine or alcohol.
“Enjoy the holidays with family and friends and have a happy, healthy New Year,” says Weintraub. “But listen to your body and don’t overdo it!”