When you get the flu (influenza), you feel achy, stuffy and feverish. You're thinking about your head, your sinuses and your sore throat—but what about your heart?
The connection between this respiratory illness and your cardiovascular system may not be immediately obvious. But if you have heart disease, the flu can cause serious complications or even death, reports the American Heart Association. Complications include bacterial pneumonia or the worsening of chronic heart problems.
If you have heart disease, it's important to take precautions to avoid getting the flu. And if you do get it, make sure you know how to take care of yourself and when to see the doctor.
Five steps to prevention
The flu is caused by a virus, which means that it is contagious and antibiotics are not effective against it. So prevention is the best way to protect yourself.
The flu usually spreads through the air. A cough or sneeze sends droplets of the infection into the air, where they can be breathed in by someone nearby. It can also spread by direct contact, such as when a droplet on a doorknob gets on your hand. If you touch your mouth or nose before washing your hands, you may be infected.
Help yourself avoid the flu with these five tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Get vaccinated. A yearly flu shot is the best way to guard against the illness. People with some medical conditions should get the flu shot and not the nasal spray version of the vaccine.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Wash your hands with soap and water often to protect yourself from germs. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
- Keep your hands away from your eyes, mouth and nose, where you can deposit germs that are on your fingers.
- Have good health habits. Get regular sleep, eat healthy foods, exercise, drink plenty of liquids and de-stress.
If you get sick
Flu symptoms include fever (usually high), headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat and stuffy nose. If you think you have the flu, stay at home to avoid spreading the illness and help yourself recover. Get lots of rest and drink plenty of liquids, CDC recommends, and avoid drinking alcohol.
If you have heart disease and suspect you have the flu, talk with your doctor immediately. Antiviral medications may help reduce the duration of the illness and ease your symptoms.
Go to the emergency room if you have any of the following warning signs, advises CDC:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen.
- Persistent dizziness or confusion.
- Not urinating.
- Severe muscle pain, weakness or unsteadiness.
- Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough.
- Worsening of chronic medical conditions.
These may be signs of a serious complication from the flu.
In addition, because having the flu may worsen a heart condition, make sure you know the warning signs of a heart attack.