We often think of winter as the 3 months of the year when we’re most likely to be bed ridden from a cold or flu. However, new research is suddenly making us question: could our runny noses and persistent coughs cause a heart attack?

Research sees heart attacks occur as a result of respiratory infections

The University of Sydney has found that acute respiratory infections are one of the key causes of a heart attack. Their research claims that our risk of experiencing a heart attack is 17 times higher when we’re sick with a colds, flus, and other respiratory infections.

The study investigated 578 patients who reported having respiratory infection symptoms over the same period they suffered a heart attack. Results showed that 21 per cent of these participants reported flu-like symptoms (such as sore throat, cough, fever, and sinus pain) within 31 days of their heart attack.

17 per cent of the patients investigated had cold and flu symptoms within a week of their heart attack. After these 7 days the risk gradually declines, but continues to stay elevated for the rest of the month.

A second analysis of the group revealed that the risk was slightly reduced for those with upper respiratory conditions. Their risk was 13 times higher rate of experiencing a heart attack than Australia’s average.

This link between respiratory infection and heart attacks is causing concern throughout Australia’s winter months.

Understanding respiratory infections

A acute respiratory infection can include any illness that occurs suddenly and effects the airways of the body. These illnesses are often separated into which areas of the respiratory system the infection effects. The two classifications are upper and lower respiratory infections.

Upper respiratory infections include many common viral illnesses that effect the nose, throat, and upper airways. This includes colds, nasopharyngitis, pharyngotonsillitis, and otitis media.

Lower respiratory infections move into the lower larynx and can also attack the bronchi and even the whole lungs. These illnesses include croup, bronchitis, pertussis, bronchiolitis, pneumonia, and influenza.

Influenza falls into both categorises as it effects both the upper and lower airways.

Symptoms seen in most respiratory infections include:

  • Nasal, sinuses, or lung congestion
  • A runny nose
  • Coughing
  • A sore throat
  • Non-localised body aches
  • Fatigue

If you have these cold and flu symptoms please don’t ignore any pains in the chest, choking feelings in your throat, heaviness in the arms, or dizziness. Always call 000 when it seems like you’re experiencing these symptoms of a heart attack. If you’re unsure what to look for see our article: know the signs of a heart attack

How these illnesses can cause a heart attack

One of the most common causes of a heart attack is a coronary heart blockage which reduces blood flow to the heart. It can be causes by many factors including cold and flu symptoms and coronary heart disease. Acute respiratory infection act as a trigger for a heart attack by increasing blood clotting, damaging blood vessels through inflammation and toxins, and creating changed in blood flow.