Something new to scare you: New medical evidence reveals common colds and other respiratory ills can trigger heart attacks.
In fact, the risk of suffering a heart attack rises an astonishing 17 percent in the seven days after a cold or respiratory infection, according to the study published in the Internal Medicine Journal.
Lead researcher Dr. Geoffrey Tofler, a professor of preventive cardiology at the Australia-based University of Sydney, says the study is the first of its kind to show a clear association between everyday respiratory infections and heart attacks.
“Our message to people is that while the absolute risk that any one episode will trigger a heart attack is low, they need to be aware that respiratory infections can lead to a coronary event,” says Toffler, a Harvard-trained researcher and medical director of Heart Research Australia.
“So, consider preventive strategies where possible and don’t ignore symptoms that could indicate a heart attack.”
Tofler says there are several potential explanations for the link between cold viruses and heart problems.
“Possible reasons for why respiratory infections may trigger heart attacks include increased tendencies towards blood clotting, inflammation, and toxins damaging blood vessels — along with changes in blood flow,” he says.
His team’s research involved analyzing 578 heart attack patients at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital. Researchers interviewed the patients about their medical conditions preceding heart attacks that they had survived.
The results indicated 17 percent reported experiencing respiratory illness symptoms during the seven days before their heart attacks and another 21 percent reported similar symptoms within the previous 31 days.
Symptoms included breathing difficulties and sore throats, but also mild upper respiratory tract infections — including common colds, rhinitis, and sinusitis.
Co- researcher Dr. Lorcan Ruane notes that a statistical analysis of the findings indicated the patients who had suffered infections were 13 times more likely to have had subsequent heart attacks than those who reported no infections.
“Although upper respiratory infections are less severe, they’re far more common than lower respiratory tract symptoms,” Ruane explains. “Therefore, it’s important to understand their relationship to heart attack risks.”
Dr. Thomas Buckley, a University of Sydney professor who examined the findings, points out that heart attacks are much more common in winter than summer, suggesting this is “likely due in part to the increased incidence of respiratory infection.”
The take-home message: Do everything you can to avoid catching a cold or respiratory infection and be on the lookout for heart problems afterward, experts say.
To avoid a cold, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend:
- Wash your hands often and help small children do the same.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands because cold-causing viruses can enter your body this way.
- Stay away from people who are sick.
- Don’t kiss or hug people with colds.
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