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Heart Disease and the Flu

If you have heart disease, it's important to do all you can to avoid getting the flu, a viral infection of the respiratory system.

According to the CDC, 3,000 to 49,000 people die from flu and more than 200,000 are hospitalized due to flu complications each year. Studies also show that death from the flu is more common among people with heart disease than among people with any other chronic illness.

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While everyone has a chance to catch the flu, having heart disease makes it harder to fight off viruses that cause flu. The flu and other viral infections can create added stress in the body, which can affect your blood pressure, heart rate, and overall heart function.

In addition, some new findings show that the risk of having a heart attack or stroke doubles in the week following a respiratory infection such as flu. Researchers believe this may explain why heart attacks and strokes occur more commonly during winter months. Take steps now to prevent having serious problems with flu.

What Are Symptoms of the Flu?

With the flu, the miserable symptoms usually come on quickly. You may experience the following signs and symptoms of flu:

  • Fever (usually high)
  • Severe aches and pains in the joints and muscles and around the eyes
  • Generalized weakness
  • Ill appearance with warm, flushed skin and red, watery eyes
  • Headache
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat and watery discharge from the nose

(For in-depth information, see WebMD's Flu Symptoms: What You Might Feel.)

What Is Heart Disease?

When people think of heart disease, usually they think of coronary artery disease (narrowing of the arteries leading to the heart). But coronary artery disease is just one type of cardiovascular disease.

Cardiovascular disease includes a number of conditions affecting the structures or function of the heart. Those conditions can include:

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. It is important to learn about your heart to help prevent heart disease. And, if you have cardiovascular disease, you can live a healthier, more active life by learning about your disease and treatments and by becoming an active participant in your care.

What Flu Treatments Are Safe for Those With Heart Disease?

If you have heart disease, be cautious when using over-the-counter flu treatments. Certain flu treatments contain decongestants. According to the American Heart Association, decongestants can raise blood pressure and interfere with heart medications. Decongestants should rarely be used by someone with high blood pressure or heart disease.

When considering flu treatments, be sure to read the labels. Look for products that are specially formulated for people who have high blood pressure. Flu treatments should be "decongestant-free."

In addition, before taking any over-the-counter flu treatment, talk to your doctor or ask your pharmacist for professional advice. Make sure that all of your doctors know all of the drugs you're taking -- prescription and over-the-counter.

WebMD Medical Reference

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