Experts Suggest Risk of Heart Problems in Americans May Increase Due to COVID and Flu Spread Across the US

  • Surge in respiratory viruses like COVID-19 and flu in the US could lead to an increase in cardiovascular complications, warn experts.
  • Severe illness from respiratory infections can raise heart rate, cause inflammation and lead to blood clot formation, potentially triggering heart attacks.
  • Myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, can weaken the heart and lead to heart failure or cardiogenic shock, even in otherwise healthy individuals.

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Experts are warning that the surge in respiratory viruses, including COVID-19 and influenza, in the United States could lead to an increase in cardiovascular complications. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 32,861 weekly COVID hospitalizations and 14,874 weekly flu hospitalizations for the week ending January 13. These numbers are lower than the previous week but similar to levels seen in previous years. Many people may assume that respiratory illnesses only lead to complications affecting the upper or lower respiratory tracts, but there are two potential ways in which these infections can contribute to heart problems.

Dr. Deepak Bhatt, director of Mount Sinai Fuster Heart Hospital in New York City, explains that one pathway is when someone gets severely ill with influenza or another respiratory infection, running a high fever or becoming dehydrated and requiring hospitalization. This can be a setup for heart problems, especially for those with pre-existing heart disease or risk factors. Fever and dehydration can raise a patient’s heart rate, and respiratory infections can cause inflammation that leads to the formation of blood clots, potentially triggering heart attacks.

The other pathway, although rarer, is myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart muscle following a virus. Myocarditis can cause abnormal heartbeats and weaken the heart muscle, leading to cardiomyopathy, which affects the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively. In rare cases, myocarditis can even lead to heart failure and cardiogenic shock, even in otherwise healthy individuals.

While these conditions are more likely to affect older adults or those with known heart disease or risk factors, there may be individuals who are unaware they are at risk. Some people may have undiagnosed heart disease, and a severe illness like influenza can unveil this hidden condition. In light of this, Dr. Bhatt recommends that individuals who have not yet received the flu and COVID-19 vaccines, as well as the RSV vaccine for older adults, should get vaccinated. Currently, vaccine uptake has been low, with just 21.5% of adults aged 18 and older receiving the updated COVID vaccine and 46.7% receiving the flu shot. Only 2.1% of adults aged 60 and older have received the RSV vaccine.

It is important for anyone experiencing chest pain or worsening shortness of breath, regardless of underlying conditions or risk factors, to seek medical attention. Dr. Bhatt emphasizes that if someone is experiencing significant discomfort in the chest and symptoms that are worsening rapidly, they should not assume it is due to a common cold or respiratory infection. Instead, they should call their doctor or 911.

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