The flu is never fun, regardless of how old you are. You have a fever, you ache, you have chills, and you can’t do anything because you’re a prisoner to your bed or couch.
If it wasn’t bad enough that the flu made you feel horrible, if you’re over the age of 65, you’re at a much greater risk of flu-related complications. The deadliest one is having a heart attack.
Researcher and lead author of the findings Dr. Jeff Kwong explained, “What we found is that you’re six times more likely to have a heart attack during the week after being diagnosed with influenza, compared with a year before or a year after the infection. What we were also surprised about is that we found that there was an increased risk of other respiratory viruses as well.”
To conduct the study, the researchers looked at nearly 20,000 adult cases of influenza from 2009 to 2014. They identified 332 patients who were hospitalized for heart attack within one year before and after influenza diagnosis.
Of the 332 patients, 20 had a heart attack within seven days of their flu diagnosis, with 75 percent of these patients being over the age of 65.
Kwong added that 31 percent of those who experienced a heart attacked did not receive the flu shot, but cautions that these findings require very careful interpretation.
He added, “We know that influenza vaccines aren’t 100 percent effective. Some people who get vaccinated are still going to get influenza. If you got vaccinated and you still got influenza, you were still at an increased risk of a heart attack at the same level as those who didn’t get vaccinated and got influenza. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth getting vaccinated. It just means that it only works [to reduce the risk of a heart attack] by preventing infection.”
Studies have shown that the flu vaccine isn’t as strong in seniors as it is in younger people. Even still, it is recommended that seniors get vaccinated, as they are at a higher risk of flu-related complications, so it’s important that they reduce their risk of developing the flu.
Kwong concluded, “This is just one more piece of evidence to encourage people, to warn people so they know that influenza has been shown to cause heart attacks. It may not cause them in everybody, obviously, but in some people, it really can increase their risk substantially.”
Tips to reduce your risk of catching the flu
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- If you are sick, stay home
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing into your sleeve, never into your hand
- Always wash your hands
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Practice good health habits like regularly exercising, eating healthy, reducing stress, and drinking plenty of water
- Disinfect surface areas
Related: A universal life-long flu vaccine may soon become a reality