Each year, some 3 million people in the United States develop pneumonia. Of course, the majority recover. But what is too often overlooked is that this serious lung infection also raises the risk of a heart attack.
A few years ago, a study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found that nearly 20 percent of patients admitted with bacterial pneumonia at a Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston had a heart attack or other major heart problem at the time of admission. These conditions significantly increased the likelihood of death. What’s more, the heart problems went undiagnosed while these patients were being treated for pneumonia.
Pneumonia increases the risk of heart problems by increasing the heart’s demand for oxygen while simultaneously decreasing the lungs’ ability to transfer oxygen from air to the blood.
Pneumonia also raises blood levels of chemicals called cytokines, which promote the formation of blood clots — but also decrease the heart’s efficiency.
In addition, pneumonia creates inflammation in the body, which is increasingly being viewed as the initiator of heart disease and an intensifier of heart attack risk.
People at the greatest risk for bacteria pneumonia include those who are recovering from
surgery, people with respiratory or viral infections (including flu), and those with weakened immune systems. The same steps that help protect you against flu also help to guard against pneumonia.
This means eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of rest, avoiding contact with people who are infected, and not smoking. Smoking can weaken the lungs and pave the way for both pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — an umbrella term for a variety of lung ailments such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
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