Flu or pneumonia increases risk of heart attack or stroke, especially in seniors

Researchers from a retrospective, observational study report that victims of flu or pneumonia have a significantly increased risk of heart attack or stroke in the days after their infection.  The findings appeared on March 21, 2018 in the European Respiratory Journal.

Written by Bruce Sylvester.

Lead investigator Dr. Charlotte Warren-Gash, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UK, said, “As people age, having more than one medical condition becomes more common, so it is even more important to understand the links between different diseases. If we can understand who is at risk of these cardiovascular complications after respiratory infections, we can potentially intervene to prevent them, with methods such as vaccines.”

The investigators evaluated infection surveillance data from the Scottish Morbidity Record, a national registry. They evaluated the data for the rate of heart attacks and strokes in the periods of time immediately after a respiratory infection They identified 1,227 adults with a first heart attack and 762 with a first stroke who were diagnosed at the same time with a respiratory viral or bacterial infection, and between 2004 and 2014.

They compared this rate of cardiovascular events to other periods in the lives of the same subjects. They found that confirmed respiratory infection correlated to a six-fold increase in the risk of heart attack or stroke for three days after infection.

Warren-Gash added, “In Scotland, among those aged 75 years and above, around two in 10,000 people have a heart attack each week. Our analysis found this figure rose to 10 in 10,000 in the week after having a respiratory infection.”

The dangers increase with age, Warren-Gash noted, “For most young, healthy people, the risk of heart attacks and strokes occurring after a respiratory infection is low. This research is particularly relevant for those over the age of 65, as well as people with pre-existing heart diseases, as these groups are at higher risk of heart attacks and strokes.”

Professor Mina Gaga, President of the European Respiratory Society, and Medical Director and Head of the Respiratory Department of Athens Chest Hospital, said,  “This large study reinforces the importance of making sure patients who are at-risk of heart attacks and strokes, such as people with chronic diseases and those aged over 65, are vaccinated against influenza and pneumonia to help better protect against adverse cardiovascular complications as well as respiratory infection.”