Open Accessibility Menu

Does the Flu Increase Your Risk of Heart Attack?

The results of a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine show that people with the flu are six times more likely to suffer a heart attack in the week after being diagnosed.

So how is the flu connected to heart attacks?

“Your body is under a lot of stress when you have the flu. Inflammation, lower levels of oxygen and a drop in blood pressure can lead to a cardiac event,” explains Dr. Lance LaMotte, Interventional Cardiologist at Baton Rouge Cardiology Center. “As cardiologists, we constantly tell patients about the importance of knowing your numbers and understanding your risk. This is a good example of why. If you know you’re at risk for heart disease, it’s more important than ever to get your flu shot.”

The study analyzed 20,000 flu infections in adults 35 and over. The results showed that in the week after a flu diagnosis, the number of heart attacks in flu patients jumped significantly. The risk may be slightly higher for older adults, patients with influenza B infections, and those experiencing their first heart attack. 76 percent of the patients who experienced a heart attack after the flu had not received a flu shot.

Although some people skip their flu shot, LaMotte emphasizes its importance – even if you’ve already had the flu this season. He also encourages patients to continue to practice preventive measures like thorough hand washing.

It’s important to be aware of common warning signs of heart attacks, including:

  • Chest pain, discomfort or fullness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feelings of heartburn or indigestion
  • Jaw, neck and arm pain (especially among women)

If you experience signs of a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Learn more about heart attack symptoms here.

* Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and Public Health Ontario in Canada.