If you have heart disease and get the flu, you could be looking at some serious complications. Unfortunately, if you have heart trouble, you may have a harder time fighting off the many different viruses that cause the flu. You are also more susceptible to flu-related complications like pneumonia. Consequently, awareness of the health effects pneumonia can have on your lungs and body, as well as the steps you can take to prevent the flu, may help keep you healthier during cold and flu season.
Lack of Oxygen
Viral or bacterial pneumonia is a common flu complication, especially as you get older. When your lungs can't get enough oxygen into your blood, your heart has to work harder to get what oxygen there is to the rest of the body, putting added strain on the heart.
Spread of Infection
Even a mild case of pneumonia can take a heavy toll on your immune system—more so if you already have a chronic illness like heart disease. If the infection spreads to the bloodstream, it can affect other parts of the body, including the kidneys where it can cause life-threatening complications.
Another problem that pneumonia presents is that older people don't cough as productively as younger individuals. A productive cough, which can be a symptom of pneumonia, helps clear mucus from your lungs. Therefore, if you don't cough up sputum, it builds up in your lungs and may spread to the lining of the chest cavity. Bacterial sputum can also spread to a replaced heart valve or pacemaker where an infection can develop.
Heart Device Infection
Although heart devices save lives, when a pacemaker or other implanted heart device develops an infection, the outcome can be deadly. Infection can occur in anyone with implantable medical devices, but research suggests that infections related to implantable heart devices occur more often in older men. Additional complications that can occur include heart failure and blood infections.
The best way to prevent the flu and potential complications or worsening of heart disease is to take these actions:
Get a flu shot every year—especially if you are at high risk of flu complications
Get a pneumococcal vaccine along with the flu vaccine
Continue taking your regular medications if you get the flu
Wash your hands frequently
Disinfect surfaces that may be contaminated with flu germs
Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth
Avoid crowds and contact with sick people
Report any changes in your breathing to your doctor
See your doctor if you suspect that you already have the flu. Early treatment with a prescription oral antiviral helps prevent flu complications. Antivirals can also shorten the duration and severity of flu symptoms.