Most Americans know that respiratory infections such as the flu can cause problems in lungs or airways. But did you know viruses like flu, COVID-19 and RSV can also lead to heart issues? As winter illnesses continue to spread, physicians are seeing more cardiovascular symptoms triggered by these infections While older people are most vulnerable, heart complications are happening in people of all ages. Severe infections can produce new heart problems and worsen existing conditions. This can happen in two ways.
- Dehydration or fever can elevate a person’s heart rate, which is especially dangerous for individuals with heart disease or related conditions.
- Infections often lead to inflammation, which can increase blood clots that induce heart attacks.
Almost 1 in 2 US adults are diagnosed with heart disease, which is the country’s top cause of death. Many more people remain undiagnosed. “One challenge with heart disease is not everybody knows that they have it,” said Dr. Deepak Bhatt, Director of Mount Sinai Fuster Heart Hospital in New York City, “That is, there are people that are walking around with heart disease, but the diagnosis hasn’t been made, because they’ve not had any symptoms yet.” In some cases, it is only when the person has a heart attack that the disease is identified. With so many Americans one bad infection away from heart failure, healthcare providers say it’s important to take steps to lower your risk, such as:
- Eating healthily
- Getting regular exercise
- Managing stress and making your mental health a priority
- Being aware of any family history of heart problems
- Quitting smoking/vaping
- Monitoring blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels