What can the flu do to you? If you have heart disease, one answer may be life-threatening.
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Influenza-related stress on your body can launch a negative chain of events that builds toward a heart attack. And research shows that people with heart disease are nearly 10 times more likely to have a heart attack after coming down with the flu.
To explain the connection, we turn to infectious disease expert Kristin Englund, MD.
If you get the flu, your immune system moves aggressively to fight off the virus. The response leads to internal inflammation, which can elevate your blood pressure and put extra stress on your heart.
Plaque buildup (a waxy, fatty substance) in arteries becomes increasingly vulnerable to ruptures in this situation. As the plaque weakens and breaks, artery-clogging clots can form and disrupt blood flow to your heart — a blockage could trigger a heart attack.
Anyone with an existing heart issue is more likely to have their cardiovascular system overwhelmed by the effects of the flu, says Dr. Englund.
“Fighting off the infection can put a lot of stress on the heart,” she adds. “If you have an underlying health issue, such as heart disease, complications from the flu can cascade into something much worse.”
Absolutely — and that’s a reality seen through statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Between 2010 and 2020, the flu hospitalized between 140,000 and 710,000 in the U.S. annually, according to estimates from the CDC. Deaths tied to the flu ranged from 12,000 to 52,000 over the same period.
“People often underestimate the flu,” notes Dr. Englund. “It’s not just a cold, and it can be deadly.”
Possible complications from the flu include:
You’re at high risk for developing flu complications if you have:
Be proactive in preventing problems with the flu by doing the following: