Fevers, chills, muscle aches, and respiratory symptoms are all signs of the flu. If you or someone you love has heart disease, the flu could mean more. For those who have underlying heart failure, arrhythmias or coronary disease, an influenza infection can exacerbate these underlying conditions – resulting in hospitalizations for heart attacks, heart failure and arrhythmias.
This is because the flu increases stress on the heart – increasing heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormone levels. In addition, a flu infection causes inflammation in the body, which can also trigger heart attacks. This is especially true with the heart muscle, where it can lead to myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle). It can result in severe heart failure, in which the heart muscle becomes so weak, it is unable to pump on its own without medications or mechanical support. Some patients can recover their heart muscle function, but in others it can be fatal.
Another way the flu can affect the heart is pericarditis – which is inflammation of the lining of the heart. This can result in chest pain with deep breathing (because the lining of the heart is inflamed, when you breathe it causes pain). It can also cause a buildup of fluid in the sac surrounding the heart – pericardial effusion. Without prompt treatment, this can lead to death.
In less severe cases, myocarditis or pericarditis can mimic a heart attack, with symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath and arrhythmias. Either can require a long hospital stay for IV medications and monitoring.
Prevent getting the flu this year by making sure that you get the flu shot.
You'll find more information on flu shots in our previous news article, Flu shots more important than ever this year.