The Flu Increases Your Risk of Having a Heart Attack

Jan 25, 2018 at 10:59 a.m. ET
Image: Valeriy_G/Getty Images

This year's flu season is no joke, already claiming the lives of at least 30 children. Getting the flu shot is definitely the way to go, but it's no guarantee you won't come down with the dreaded virus. And now, more grim news: New research has found that having the flu virus significantly increases your risk of having a heart attack.

Specifically, a new study by researchers at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and Public Health Ontario found that chances of a heart attack increase sixfold during the first seven days after detection of laboratory-confirmed influenza infection.

More: When Is the Best Time to Get a Flu Shot?

“Our findings are important because an association between influenza and acute myocardial infarction reinforces the importance of vaccination,” Dr. Jeff Kwong, a scientist at ICES and PHO and lead author of the study said in a statement.

The study, which was published in The New England Journal of Medicine found a significant association between acute respiratory infections (the flu in particular) and acute myocardial infarction — better known as a heart attack. The risk is especially high among older adults who have the influenza B strain of the flu, and another reason why getting the flu vaccine is so important for that age group.

“Our findings, combined with previous evidence that influenza vaccination reduces cardiovascular events and mortality, support international guidelines that advocate for influenza immunization in those at high risk of a heart attack,” says Kwong.

More: How to Tell If You Have a Common Cold or a Full-Blown Case of the Flu

Aside from getting the flu shot, the major takeaway from this research is that those who are already at risk for a heart attack should take extra precautions during flu season, including washing their hands frequently. Additionally, the researchers recommend seeing a doctor immediately if you are in the first week of the flu and are experiencing heart attack symptoms. And despite the fact that flu season is very much underway, it's still not too late to get the flu shot.

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