What do you do when you get flu? Do you battle through manfully or do you take to your bed? You’d be far better off with the second option. We investigated to find out how flu affects heart health.
Commonly known as ‘the flu’, influenza is a highly contagious disease that can be serious, debilitating and may affect the whole body. It’s caused by a particular group of viruses and is spread by infected people coughing or sneezing as well as from surfaces contaminated by respiratory secretions. So it’s easy to catch and spread flu and hard to avoid. Most people with healthy immune systems will get over a bout of flu within two weeks, but young children, older adults and people with chronic illnesses are more likely to develop complications such as pneumonia.
Flu and your heart
Getting the flu often simply means a few days of feeling grim, but for some people, flu can affect heart health. In fact, evidence shows that heart attacks happen more often during or immediately after an acute inflammatory illness such as flu.
For patients already diagnosed with a heart condition, getting the flu can be deadly. According to Dr Francesca Nesta Delling of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center CardioVascular Institute, ‘In patients with pre-existing heart disease and especially in the elderly, flu can cause increased heart rate and overall stress. This can lead to a higher frequency of heart attacks, angina, heart failure and subsequent hospitalisations.’
In rare situations, adds Dr Delling, even heart-healthy people who get the flu can develop inflammation of the heart muscle, which is called myocarditis, or inflammation of the sac that surrounds the heart, called pericarditis. ‘Since no viruses have been found growing in the heart muscle of autopsy specimens, it is thought that myocarditis and pericarditis are secondary to the body’s response to the virus more than a direct effect of the virus on the heart,’ she explains. On occasion, pericarditis can cause a build-up of fluid around the heart that can in turn impair the filling of the heart chamber.
So don’t ignore those flu symptoms; follow our advice below. However, if you have a chronic heart condition and suspect you are getting the flu, contact your healthcare professional as soon as possible for advice.
How do you know you have the flu
Look out for:
- Fever that comes on suddenly (usually above 38° Celsius).
- Chills and sweats.
- Muscle or body aches.
- Dry cough.
- Sore throat.
- Sneezing, runny nose, stuffy nose.
- Loss of appetite.
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea, especially in children.
What to do when you get the flu
- Rest to restore your energy and avoid complications like pneumonia.
- Try to put all stressful thoughts behind you. Stress depresses the immune system, which you need to be up and running so you can recover. In fact, if stress is a constant factor in your life, it probably contributed to your succumbing to flu in the first place.
- Drink lots of fluids.
- Eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as you can for their anti-oxidant benefits, especially those containing vitamins A and C.
- Drink warm liquids such as restorative chicken soup, broth and tea to help soothe a sore throat and loosen mucus, easing congestion.
- Take natural remedies whenever possible – they’re easier for your system to handle. Zinc, for example, can help relieve symptoms and strengthens your immune system (don’t take more than the recommended dosage); Echinacea stimulates the immune system and has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral properties, and can help you get back on your feet more quickly; Garlic may help reduce your risk of getting an upper respiratory tract infection; Elder or elderberry reduces congestion and may increase perspiration; Eucalyptus helps soothe coughs, congestion and bronchial problems; and the menthol in Peppermint also thins mucus and works as an expectorant, helping to loosen and break up phlegm.
What’s Your Take Away?
Have you dealt with a flu or cold carelessly in the past? Has your heart been affect by flu? If so, what did you do to recover and protect your heart for the future? We’d love to know your experience – share with us on Facebook.
Acknowledgements & Photo credits
Article compiled for Flora Force by Judy Beyer.
This article was adapted in the main from the University of Maryland Medical Center’s useful guide to influenza.
- British Heart Foundation. Flu. https://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/living-with-a-heart-condition/seasonal-influenza
- Van Wyk, B-E. and Wink, M. Medicinal Plants of the World. 2004. Briza Books, Pretoria, South Africa.