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How the Flu Affects People with Heart Disease

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Updated October 28, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

The flu (influenza) can be a serious illness for anyone, but certain groups of people are at higher risk for severe illness and complications than others. People with heart disease are more likely to get very sick from the flu. Learn more about what happens when you get the flu if you have heart disease.

Flu Symptoms

Flu symptoms are pretty much the same for people with heart disease as they are for the general population. However, people with heart disease may be more susceptible to respiratory symptoms that can lead to difficulty breathing. If you have heart disease, you will want to pay close attention to your breathing when you have the flu. Contact your health care provider immediately if you notice any changes in your breathing.

Other flu symptoms include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Body and muscle aches
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Fatigue and exhaustion

Special Considerations

If you have heart disease and you develop flu-like symptoms, contact your health care provider right away.

Do not stop taking your heart medications. Additionally, many over-the-counter cold and flu medications are not safe to use if you take medications for heart disease or high blood pressure. Talk to your health care provider to determine which medications are safe for you.

You may have an increased risk of a heart attack or stroke if you have heart disease and get the flu. Be aware of the warning signs of these conditions and seek immediate medical attention if you experience signs of either. Make sure those around you know what to look for in the event that you are unable to communicate.

What You Can Do to Protect Yourself

Get your flu shot. Flu shots are safe and effective for people with heart disease. Because you are in a high-risk group, you should get your flu shot as soon as they become available each flu season to protect yourself. Be sure your loved ones get theirs, too. The more people around you who are vaccinated, the less likely you are to get sick.

Keep a two-week supply of all your medications on hand. Make sure you have enough of your medications to last you for at least two weeks at all times.

Follow everyday prevention tips to avoid the flu. Steps like washing your hands frequently, using hand sanitizer when soap and water aren't available, and avoiding people who are sick will go a long way towards keeping you healthy.

Contact your health care provider if you develop symptoms of the flu. He can perform tests to determine whether or not you actually have influenza and treat you accordingly. There are antiviral medications that can be prescribed during the first 48 hours of the onset of symptoms that will help shorten the duration of your illness, lessen the severity of your symptoms, and reduce your risk of serious complications. Only your health care provider can determine if these medications are appropriate for you, so contact him as soon as you notice flu symptoms.

If you have heart disease, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure or a history of a heart attack or stroke, don't take chances with your health. Protect yourself from the flu and know what to do if you happen to get it.

Sources:

"Heart Disease and the Flu." Flu.gov. US Department of Health and Human Services. 25 Oct 11.

"People at High Risk of Developing Flu-Related Complications." Seasonal Influenza (Flu) 29 Jun 11. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 25 Oct 11.

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