New study finds flu can increase heart attack risk
By Robert Sedlacek, MD
The flu can cause more than just a fever and aches — for some, it can be dangerous to the heart.
A recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that people are six times more likely to have a heart attack during the week after being diagnosed with the flu, compared to the year before or after the infection.
“During the flu, a person’s body is under a lot of stress,” said Dr. Robert Sedlacek, a family medicine physician at Ascension Medical Group at Merrill. “For example, patients often experience inflammation along with lower blood pressure and oxygen levels, which can lead to an increased risk of forming blood clots.”
The study also indicated that baseline risks matter. Most of the patients in the study who had a heart attack while they were fighting the flu were over the age of 65 and had risk factors for heart disease.
“Only about 30 percent of the study population had been vaccinated against the flu,” said Dr. Sedlacek. “The flu shot is the best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu.”
Dr. Sedlacek also offers these tips of what not to do during the Flu Season:
1. Don’t use the nasal spray flu vaccine: Only injectable flu shots are recommended this flu season.
2. Don’t take antibiotics: A virus causes the flu, and only antiviral medications can treat a virus. Antibiotics treat bacterial infections.
3. Don’t lie down: With symptoms like high fever, aches and chills, resting during the flu is very important, but lying down makes it harder on the lungs. Lying upright will make it easier to clear the lungs.
4. Don’t take a cold shower to reduce fever: Taking a cold shower or ice bath to reduce the flu actually has the opposite effect. Instead, lukewarm water can help break a fever.
5. Don’t go to work: Returning to work with the flu puts those around you at a higher risk of contracting the flu. The CDC recommends that people do not return to work until they have been fever free for 24 hours without the use of medication.
Robert Sedlacek, MD, is a Family Medicine Specialist with Ascension Medical Group at Merrill. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call 715.804.7500 or visit ascension.org/wisconsin