BHealthy Blog

Can Getting the Flu Effect Your Heart?

Dr. Anthony Fletcher, Cardiologist

First of all the flu vaccine is something that we all should consider on a yearly basis, especially those individuals with chronic illnesses, such as chronic lung disease, history of known previous coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, the very young or very old.

The flu virus can play a role in the development of hardening of the arteries, arteriosclerosis and its complications. It does this in many ways:

  • it increases inflammation
  • it increases the potential of the blood to want to clot
  • it creates low oxygen levels called hypoxia
  • it can result in low blood pressure
  • it can result in the heart having an increased demand thereby putting it at risk for poor blood flow.

As a result of all these, the patient can be at increased risk for heart attack and/or stroke as well as development of congestive heart failure. Of interest, it is noted that there is a peak in heart attacks during flu season. Usually after about two weeks into the flu season we notice an increase in the number of people having acute heart attacks.

The flu virus can also cause normal heart muscle to become weak as a result of the toxic effects of the virus on the muscle. This causes what we call cardiomyopathy or weakening of the heart with a development of decreased cardiac output resulting in the development of congestive heart failure. This can occur in the very young causing inflammation of the heart muscle called myocarditis or in the normal adult population.

Flu symptoms can consist of a productive cough, shortness of breath, generalized fatigue and fever. This condition can result in a severe illness, sometimes resulting in the patient needing to be hospitalized in the Intensive Care Unit on life support. The fortunate thing is in most individuals it is a very transient illness and most people have a full recovery with appropriate medical attention.

The take-home message here is prevention, so lets all get out and get our flu shots in preparation for the upcoming flu season!