Dr. Campbell: New study says recent respiratory infection can increase heart attack risk

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Respiratory infections are quite common—many of us may call them colds—and they are most often associated with cough and congestion. Now, a new study published May 15 in the Internal Medicine Journal, reveals that we may be at higher risk for heart attack in the days and weeks following a respiratory illness.


1. Tell us about this new study

Researchers from Australia at the University of Sydney examined data from 578 people who suffered a heart attack and found that 17 percent had experienced symptoms of respiratory infection within seven days before the heart attack, and 21 percent within the prior month. After looking at the data, they concluded that the risk for heart attack was 17-fold higher in the week following a significant lower respiratory infection (cough, cold, symptoms). Even in those who had a milder upper respiratory infections—sore throat, fever, sinus symptoms– they found a 13-fold increase in risk.

2. Why does a respiratory infection put us at higher risk for heart attack?

While the study did not determine exactly why this relationship between respiratory infection and heart attack occurred, possible reasons that a heart attack may be triggered include:

  • Increased tendency towards blood clotting
  • More inflammation
  • More toxins are released that damage blood vessels and change blood flow

3. How can we lower that risk?

It is important to remember that the absolute risk that any one respiratory episode will trigger a heart attack is low. But we need to be aware that a respiratory infection could lead to a heart event. It is very important to consider preventative strategies such as flu and pneumonia vaccines, and don’t ignore symptoms that could indicate a heart attack—chest pain, shortness of breath, arm or jaw pain, nausea. Also remember symptoms may be different in women as compared to men.

To get in touch with Dr. Campbell, you can head to his website, Facebook page or message him on Twitter.

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