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Heart Disease and Colds

If you have heart disease, catching a cold can lead to potentially serious health problems. That's why it's important to understand how to treat a cold when you have heart disease. Then you can help prevent cold complications. Here's what you need to know about heart disease and colds to stay well.

Why Do Colds Pose a Serious Problem to People With Heart Disease?

While the cold virus isn't usually serious, cold complications, such as pneumonia, can make it hard to take in oxygen efficiently. This makes your heart work harder to pump oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. This extra demand on the heart can be quite serious when people with heart disease catch colds.

With Heart Disease, Which Cold Treatment Should I Use When I Have a Cold?

Avoid any cold medicine that contains decongestants. According to the American Heart Association, decongestants should not be used by the 100 million Americans with high blood pressure, because decongestants can raise blood pressure even more. People with high blood pressure should ask their doctor about using a decongestant-free cold medicine.

While there are some over-the-counter cold medicines that may be safe for people with heart disease, always check with your doctor or pharmacist first. You should make sure the drug won't interfere with other medications prescribed for your condition. In fact, make sure all your doctors know about all the drugs you're taking -- both prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

What's the Best Way for Someone With Heart Disease to Prevent Colds?

Whether or not you have heart disease, good hygiene helps to prevent respiratory infections such as colds. Stop the spread of a cold virus by making sure you and your family members wash your hands regularly.

While there is no vaccine against the cold, there are immunizations that can help prevent other respiratory infections, such as pneumonia and the flu. The CDC recommends that people with chronic medical conditions, including heart disease, get the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available each year so that your body has time to build up enough antibodies before the flu season kicks into high gear. Flu season can begin as early as October and last as late as May. Vaccination before December is best, but you can still get vaccinated in December or later, if needed. The flu shot usually becomes effective about two weeks after your vaccination.

The pneumonia shot helps prevent pneumonia caused by pneumococcus bacteria. It's usually required only once, but you may need a booster if you received it before age 65 or have certain medical conditions.

In addition, avoid crowds during cold and flu season, because colds and particularly the flu can cause serious problems for people with heart disease. Keep your immune system working at its peak by getting plenty of sleep, eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding stress. Also, pay attention to healthy lifestyle habits by avoiding cigarette smoke and air pollutants.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on August 13, 2014
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