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Heart Disease

Infectious Diseases Linked to Heart Attacks

Serious bouts of flu or respiratory infections can lead to a heart attack. Inflammation from tissue infection in the respiratory track or mouth may create biochemical changes in the plaque that lines blood vessel walls, triggering vascular disease such as heart attack or stroke.

Bronchitis and influenza, among other infections, have been associated with development of heart attack. In fact, the risk of heart attack is increased several fold in elderly people suffering from acute respiratory track infection. In addition, chronic periodontal (gum) disease may also increase your risk of heart disease.

Chronic infections activate the immune system, the body's natural response for fending off invading microorganisms. However, the activated immune response may also trigger inflammation in the blood vessel wall. This, in turn, can disturb otherwise inactive vascular lesions, resulting in tissue disruption and clot formation that block blood flow to the heart or brain and cause heart attack or stroke.

Prevention is the best advice. It's wise to:

Receiving the flu vaccine not only reduces the risk of serious respiratory infections, it may also reduce your risk for developing cardiovascular problems, including heart attacks.

Here are additional heart-health tips:

Strenuous exercise like shoveling snow, carrying heavy packages upstairs and shopping for hours can add stress to your heart. And so can drinking too much caffeine or alcohol.

This article originally appeared in UC Health Line (12/28/06), a service of the NetWellness.org Academic Health Center Public Relations Department and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2007.

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Last Reviewed: Feb 11, 2009

College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati