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You might have heard the news that a bad, even epic flu season might be just around the corner. In fact, experts are warning that because of all of the mitigation and social distancing measures we’ve all been practicing to prevent Covid, now that things are moving towards normal, the flu could come roaring back with a vengeance.
But what you may not have heard is just how dangerous this flu season could be if you have heart disease.
That’s because a study published by the American Heart Association has found that for those with heart problems (or even just risk factors that lead to heart disease), getting the flu can lead to a serious or even fatal cardiac event.
Complicating factors mean a difficult diagnosis
You see, most people with heart disease understand that they are at risk for heart attack and stroke, but they never consider that the risk of these events might be influenced by outside factors, such as the flu.
So while getting the flu might leave you worried that you’ll suffer from a complication like pneumonia, bronchitis or a bacterial infection of the lungs, you don’t even think about what it’s doing to your heart.
And it’s easy to see why your heart might not be top of mind when you get the flu since even researchers have been unsure exactly how many dangerous (or deadly) heart events to lay at the feet of the virus.
After all, for many patients, a heart attack or stroke can come weeks after the onset of the flu. This is a time when even your doctor might not think of the virus when determining just what was behind your heart turning against you.
Putting it in perspective
However, thanks to that review published by the American Heart Association, we now have a summary of what all of the recent research shows when it comes to the connection between flu and your heart.
And the results are pretty darn scary. They show:
- Cardiovascular deaths and influenza epidemics spike around the same time.
- Patients are six times more likely to experience a heart attack the week after influenza infection than they are at any point during the year prior or the year after the infection.
- In one study looking at 336,000 hospital admissions for flu, 11.5% experienced a serious cardiac event.
- Another study looking at 90,000 lab-confirmed influenza infections showed a strikingly similar rate of 11.7% experiencing an acute cardiovascular event.
- One in eight patients, or 12.5%, admitted to the hospital with influenza experienced a cardiovascular event, with 31% of those requiring intensive care and 7% dying as a result of the event, another study found.
In other words, flu can be deadly — not just because of what it does to your lungs, but because of the effect it has on your heart.
Flu, inflammation and heart dangers
So what is it that allows a common viral infection to set off a cascade that can lead to heart attack, stroke and death?
Well, the researchers say that the reason influenza stresses your heart and vascular system so much has to do with your body’s inflammatory response to the infection.
Basically, when the flu invades, your body sends out “first responders” to take care of the situation. These are white blood cells whose job it is to kill off the invader and keep you safe.
When you’re sick, you can tell that these immune cells are fighting because you feel the effects of their “combat zones” in the swelling, tenderness, pain, weakness and sometimes redness and increased temperature of your joints, muscles and lymph nodes.
And you would think this is a good thing, right?
Well, it is in a way since it has to happen in order for you to get well.
However, those battle zones can also cause a traffic jam of sorts, leading to blood clots, elevated blood pressure and even swelling or scarring of your heart. These added stressors make plaque within your arteries more vulnerable to rupture, causing a blockage that cuts off oxygen to your heart or brain.
And the end result is a heart attack or stroke.
If that weren’t enough, the additional complications of flu that we already mentioned, like pneumonia, can make heart failure symptoms or heart arrhythmia much worse.
In short, an already weakened heart can be easily overwhelmed by the stress flu puts on your body.
Preparing your heart for flu season
This means that if you’re already living with heart disease (or have risk factors for heart problems), the time to start supporting your heart so that it can be at its best when flu hits is now.
The researchers say steps to take include:
- Making sure you’re taking your medications
- Following your recommended diet
- Getting plenty of exercise
- Sticking to a stress reduction plan (such as meditation or mindful breathing)
Additionally, taking supplements to encourage a healthy cardiovascular system can help. These include:
- CoEnzyme Q10 – CoQ10 has been shown to provide support for patients with heart failure.
- Fish oil – A Mayo Clinic review of 40 clinical trials found that fish oil may help reduce the risk of heart attack and coronary artery disease.
- Alpha lipoic acid – ALA has been found to have four major heart benefits that could help you win the battle against heart disease.
Starting now to care for your heart is key since according to the researchers, “If your heart condition is stable and you end up with the flu, chances are you’ll experience fewer, less severe complications than if your heart condition is poorly managed.”
Editor’s note: There are numerous safe and natural ways to decrease your risk of blood clots including the 25-cent vitamin, the nutrient that acts as a natural blood thinner and the powerful herb that helps clear plaque. To discover these and more, click here for Hushed Up Natural Heart Cures and Common Misconceptions of Popular Heart Treatments!
Is a Bad Flu Season Coming? Study Projects Sharp Rebound Following Relaxation of COVID Distancing Measures. – Columbia Mailman School of Public Health