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Flu and Chronic Medical Conditions

If you have a chronic medical condition such as heart disease, asthma, or diabetes, it's important to call your doctor when the first flu symptoms occur.

Each year in the U.S., about 3,000 to 49,000 people die from causes related to influenza (flu) and over 200,000 are hospitalized due to complications from flu. These complications can include bacterial pneumonia, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes. When kids with asthma or diabetes get flu, they are at a much higher risk for serious complications such as pneumonia.

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Who's at risk for problems associated with flu?

According to the CDC, individuals who are at high risk for problems associated with flu include:

  • People with asthma
  • All adults 65 and older
  • All children younger than 5, but especially ones who are younger than 2
  • American Indians and Alaskan natives
  • People with chronic health conditions


What chronic medical conditions might increase problems associated with flu?

Some common medical conditions that may increase the risk of problems with the flu include:

  • Asthma, emphysema and other chronic lung problems
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke and other neurologic and developmental conditions
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Kidney, liver, and blood problems
  • Obesity
  • Children under 19 who are on long-term aspirin treatment
  • HIV/AIDS and conditions that weaken the immune system

Why is flu more serious to those with asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung disease. It affects nearly 25 million Americans. Flu can make asthma symptoms much worse.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's Asthma and Flu.

What about diabetes and flu?

While getting the flu is dangerous for anyone, it's extra risky for those with diabetes. People with diabetes are three times more likely to die with flu and/or pneumonia. 

For in-depth information, see WebMD's Diabetes and Flu.

How is COPD -- emphysema and chronic bronchitis -- worsened by flu?

Emphysema and chronic bronchitis, known together as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), affect over 12 million adults in the U.S. Both conditions are marked by obstruction to airflow that interferes with breathing. Like asthma or any lung disease, COPD is worsened by the flu. If you have COPD, it's important to learn what you can do to avoid respiratory problems.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's Emphysema and Chronic Bronchitis (COPD) and Flu.

Why is flu a danger to those with heart disease?

Flu and lung infections pose greater dangers for people with heart disease. Lung infections prevent people from taking in oxygen as efficiently as they should. This makes the heart work harder to pump oxygen-rich blood through the body. This extra work can be dangerous for people with heart disease.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's Heart Disease and Flu.

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