Although Ebola is getting a lot of press coverage these days, there are other diseases that Americans should equally be concerned about avoiding. In particular, the common cold and influenza can be deadly for children, the elderly and people with certain health conditions. If you have heart disease, you are at an increased risk of suffering complications from colds and flues and need to take extra precautions to protect your health during the winter season when these diseases are more prevalent.
Colds, Flues and Heart Disease
According to the Center for Disease Control, approximately 200,000 people are hospitalized each year for complications related to the flu. Between 1976 and 2006, up to 49,000 people died from this disease.
The symptoms of colds and flues put added stress on the body, which can aggravate existing health conditions. For example, vomiting and diarrhea caused by the flu can lead to dehydration that, in turn, can increase your heart rate and blood pressure. Flu and cold symptoms can also make it difficult to eat or keep food down, which can impact your ability to control blood sugar levels and exacerbate a related heart condition if you're diabetic.
The bacteria and viruses that cause the diseases can also cause you to get pneumonia, which can reduce your ability to get enough oxygen and force your heart to work harder to pump oxygen-rich blood to all parts of your body.
Lastly, some medications that you take to treat the symptoms of these diseases can put you at an increased risk of experiencing complications because they interfere with the effectiveness of your heart medicines.
These excess demands on your heart can put you on the road to a heart attack or stroke. So it's important to take care of yourself during the winter months to minimize your risk of catching these diseases or experiencing complications if you do.
Possibly the best thing you can do to protect yourself from communicable diseases like colds and flues is to get vaccinated every year. Vaccines help your body develop antibodies that fight off bacterial and viral invaders and significantly reduce your chances of getting sick.
However, it's important that you get the flu shot and not the vaccines that are given via nasal sprays. Nasal sprays are typically made using live viruses and can cause people with heart disease to actually develop flu symptoms.
Other things you can do to protect yourself include:
- Practicing good hygiene. This goes beyond washing your hands after using the restroom and before eating (though you should do those things too). Avoid opening doors in public places using your bare hands, don't share personal items like clothing with others and wipe down the headsets of shared telephones before using them.
- Always checking with your doctor before using any over-the-counter medications to treat cold and flu symptoms to avoid dangerous drug interactions.
- Consider getting the pneumonia vaccine. This shot can prevent you from being infected with the pneumococcus bacteria that causes this disease. If you have already received the vaccine, you may need to get a booster shot if you've over 65.
- Avoiding crowds or being in tight spaces such as elevators with lots of other people. This can be challenging if you live in a big city. Though it may look silly, you might want to consider wearing surgical masks in public to cut your risk of getting a cold or flu virus. A 2008 study found that washing your hands and wearing a facemask reduced a person's risk of getting the flu by 70 percent.
- Drinking plenty of fluids and taking time to rest. If you can't eat solid food, then try to drink meal supplements. These typically have a generous dose of needed vitamins and minerals, which can help ensure you don't suffer from nutritional deficiencies that can make your condition worse.
If your symptoms worsen or you begin experiencing chest pains, it's important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. It's a good idea to make contact with your cardiologist for more information about protecting your heart health during cold and flu season. Click here for more info.