Respiratory Virus Surge Raises Concerns for Heart Health, Warns Expert

Respiratory Virus Surge Raises Concerns for Heart Health, Warns Expert | Healthcare 360 Magazine

As the United States grapples with a surge in respiratory viruses, including COVID-19 and influenza, medical experts caution that this wave could potentially lead to an increase in cardiovascular complications. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals concerning figures, with weekly COVID-19 hospitalizations at 32,861 for the week ending January 13, showing a similar pattern to levels witnessed in January 2023. Likewise, weekly flu hospitalizations reached 14,874, comparable to figures from November 2023.

Hidden Risks beyond Respiratory Ailments

While many Americans may associate respiratory illnesses primarily with sinusitis, bronchitis, or pneumonia, Dr. Deepak Bhatt, Director of Mount Sinai Fuster Heart Hospital in New York City, emphasizes the hidden risks of such infections on heart health. According to Dr. Bhatt, there are two potential pathways through which respiratory infections can contribute to heart-related issues.

The more common pathway involves severe illness from infections like influenza, where high fever or dehydration can set the stage for heart problems. Patients with existing heart disease or risk factors face increased danger as fever and dehydration elevate heart rates. Moreover, respiratory infections induce inflammation, triggering the formation of clots in blood vessels—a potential precursor to heart attacks.

Dr. Bhatt explains, “Inflammation resulting from serious infections like influenza and COVID can cause inflammation at the site of plaque buildup in a heart artery. This can promote plaque rupture, exposing fat and cholesterol to flowing blood, leading to blood clot formation. If a clot obstructs the artery, it can result in a heart attack.”

Respiratory virus effects on the heart

Direct but Rare Pathway: Myocarditis

The less common but more direct pathway involves myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, often following a viral infection. Myocarditis can lead to arrhythmias, abnormal heartbeats, and weaken the heart muscle, causing cardiomyopathy—a condition affecting the heart’s pumping ability. In rare cases, myocarditis may progress to heart failure and cardiogenic shock, a condition where the heart can’t pump sufficient blood to meet the body’s needs.

While these conditions are more prevalent in older adults, individuals with known heart disease, or those with multiple cardiovascular risk factors, Dr. Bhatt stresses the challenge of diagnosing heart disease in people unaware of their risk. “Not everybody knows that they have it,” he says, highlighting the importance of heightened awareness and vigilance, particularly during widespread respiratory virus outbreaks.

As the nation confronts this respiratory virus surge, the interconnectedness of respiratory infections and heart health underscores the significance of proactive measures, especially among individuals unaware of their potential cardiovascular risks. The medical community emphasizes the need for public awareness and encourages those at risk to seek timely medical evaluation for early detection and intervention.

Find practical solutions to common challenges through our insightful articles on Healthcare 360 Magazine

Most Popular Stories