Health Care

Large study confirms sixfold increase in heart attack risk

Large study confirms sixfold increase in heart attack risk”

69-year-old Ronald Lebrane has had two heart attacks in the past, and made sure to get his flu shot this year. "It's not every day you see a six-fold increase in the risk during the first seven days of lab-confirmed influenza", chief author Dr. Jeffrey Kwong told Reuters Health in a telephone interview.

Nor can the study say what the absolute risk of heart attack would be for any one person who catches the flu, Kwong said.

But the new findings strengthen the theory that a flu infection can actually trigger a heart attack, according to Dr. Andy Miller, chair-elect of the ACC's Board of Governors.

The researchers found that the risk of heart attacks was somewhat higher for adults over the age of 65, and for patients who were infected with an influenza B strain of the flu, rather than influenza A.

The risk is also there for other respiratory viruses, though flu was the worst. The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at almost 20,000 adult cases of laboratory-confirmed influenza infection between 2009 to 2014 and identified 332 patients who were hospitalised for a heart attack within a year of a lab-confirmed flu diagnosis.

The American Heart Association has more on flu and pneumonia prevention.

The infections can lower blood pressure and thus lower the amount of oxygen in the blood, which forces the heart to compensate by beating faster.

As well, viral infections cause inflammation, which promotes blood clots forming in the blood vessels that serve the heart, again leading to a heart attack. Roughly 25 per cent had experienced a previous heart attack. For 76 percent, it was their first heart attack, technically known as an acute myocardial infarction.

Infection with an influenza virus appears to have the most profound effect, but the risk of having a heart attack was also somewhat increased by such pathogens as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and cold-causing adenoviruses and rhinoviruses, he said.

But those increases were not statistically significant.

The study "should not be interpreted as evidence of a lack of vaccine effectiveness, because this study was not created to evaluate the effectiveness of influenza vaccines", the researchers said.

The researchers looked at almost 20,000 Ontario adult cases of laboratory-confirmed influenza infection from 2009 to 2014 and identified 332 patients who were hospitalized for a heart attack within one year of a laboratory-confirmed influenza diagnosis. "But the flu poses the highest risk".

"I always say naw, I don't want a flu shot and something hit me", he said.

DOCTOR'S ORDERS Think you've got Aussie flu? "Some people who get vaccinated are still going to get influenza".

"It's a much more rigorous study that allows us to make a much more specific link between flu infection and heart issues", said Richard Webby, a prominent flu researcher at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.

"What's different in Canada is that we're seeing H3N2 season now, which is at its peak and we're also seeing the influenza B infection at the same time".

The researchers cautioned that the people in their study were not suffering from mild flu symptoms.

"That's the main culprit", said Dr. Mohammad Madjid, a cardiologist and flu researcher at Houston's University of Texas Health Science Center.

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