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Serious Cardiac Events Are Common in Adults Hospitalized with Flu

December 15, 2020

If you’re hospitalized because of the flu, there’s a good chance you may experience a serious heart problem that comes out of the blue. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that sudden, serious heart complications are common among flu victims.

Seasonal flu kills about 36,000 people and hospitalizes more than 200,000 each year in the United States. Infections of any kind can affect the heart and circulatory system. Influenza is no different. It can make breathing difficult, boost blood pressure, make the heart beat faster, and rev up inflammation. All of these force the heart to work harder.

Let’s take a look at what the study looked at and the results.

What Researchers Studied

Researchers looked at more than 80,000 U.S. adults. They were hospitalized with flu over the course of eight flu seasons from 2010-11 through 2017-18.

The study tracked a wide range of sudden heart complications called “acute cardiac events” that resulted in the following:

  • Damage to the heart muscle
  • Inflammation of the heart muscle
  • Fluid or inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart
  • Weakening of the pumping function of the heart

Previous studies focused on the relationship between influenza infection and heart attacks or heart failure, but few large, population-based studies have examined the frequency of acute cardiac events associated with laboratory-confirmed influenza infection.

What The Study Found

After reviewing the cases of nearly 90,000 people hospitalized by the flu, the study’s authors found that nearly 12% of them had an acute cardiac event.

The most common was acute heart failure and acute ischemic heart disease. Acute heart failure is the sudden inability of the heart to pump enough blood to meet the body’s demands, while acute ischemic heart disease is a term that describes heart problems caused by narrowed or blocked heart arteries.

It’s important to note that underlying risk factors do play a role in those people who had the flu and did experience a sudden cardiac event. They include:

  • Older age
  • Tobacco use
  • Underlying cardiac disease
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease

The results of this study are published in The Annals of Internal Medicine.

What’s The Takeaway?

The link between flu and heart trouble is not new. Researchers at Harvard Medical School point out that an analysis of 39 studies showed consistent connections between influenza and heart attack or cardiovascular-related death.

Researchers say doctors should push for high rates of influenza vaccination, especially in those with underlying chronic conditions, to protect against acute cardiovascular events associated with influenza. That means older people and those with heart or lunch disease should be first in line to get a flu shot.

Getting vaccinated is even more important this flu season because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. If you’d like to learn more about the differences and similarities between influenza and coronavirus, please take a look at our interactive webpage that breaks them all down.

Flu vs Coronavirus