It is a known phenomenon that the latter half of the monsoon season and the onset of winters also bring the Flu season. But seldom do people know that this period also brings along a higher risk of heart failure. There is enough evidence showing that people with heart diseases and those who have had a stroke are at higher risk of developing severe complications from flu. Hence, if you have had any heart disease or stroke in the recent past, it is vital to get a flu vaccine every season to stay protected against potential risks.
How does flu impact the heart?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Harvard Medical School, flu is associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and stroke. A 2018 study found that the risk of a heart attack was six times higher within a week of confirmed flu infection. For those with underlying heart conditions such as arrhythmia or coronary disease, a flu infection can exacerbate these ailments.
This often results in hospitalisations for heart attacks, heart failure, and arrhythmia. A flu infection increases stress on the heart by increasing heart rate, blood pressure and releasing an excess of intrinsic stress hormones called catecholamines. This creates immense strain on the organ, and those who have a weak heart may not be able to handle it.
It always starts with the flu symptoms of an infection in the upper and the lower airways. A patient will have congested air pathways and develop fever, cough, causing immense stress on the heart. The patient may also create a secondary infection, thus, accentuating the problem. In most cases, the initial symptoms are ignored, and people land up with an acute decompensated heart leading to organ failure. In India, people tend to develop recurrent flu infections hampering their heart health.
How does vaccination help?
Vaccination has been associated with lower rates of cardiac ailments among people with underlying heart diseases, especially those who have had a cardiac event in their recent past. Flu vaccines are updated as needed each season to keep up with changing viruses.
As immunity wanes over a year or so, annual vaccination ensures the best possible protection against flu. One essential fact to note is that whenever we come across people with heart failure, we prescribe the patient, Influenza and Pneumococcal vaccination.
Tackling heart failure:
Managing and treating heart failure is and should always be a combined team effort of cardiologists and physicians to monitor flu triggers. The checklist for caregiving must include vaccination, correction of the iron status of the patient, as well following the guideline-directed medical treatment for heart failures. It is vital to note that the most effective management mechanism for controlling heart failure is to reduce hospitalisation.
And vaccination is one way to do so. We have seen several cases of cardiac patients who avail of flu vaccination every year and can live a better quality of life. Remember, recurrent hospitalisation doubles and triples the risk of heart failure and loss of life.
(The writer is Director-Interventional Cardiology, Fortis Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi)
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