Flu vs. Heart Attack
There is no association between influenza and a heart attack. While the former is a viral respiratory infection that affects your throat, nose, and lungs, the latter is a cardiovascular disease that occurs when the arteries supplying blood and oxygen to the heart get choked due to plaque and fat deposits.
Having said that, there have been a few cases where the heart attack symptoms that the patient noticed first were similar to flu symptoms. If the heart attack and flu symptoms get identical in some cases, it can be difficult to tell them apart.
For instance, a patient coming to triage who had no previous history of heart disease or cholesterol or any of the heart disease risk factors had flu-like symptoms. Upon further investigations, it was diagnosed she was having a heart attack.
Having established that, many cardiovascular disease experts warned people against taking flu symptoms lightly, specifically when they are accompanied by other heart disease symptoms.
Flu Symptoms That are Similar to Heart Attack
When you contract influenza or flu, it is common to experience some gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea or vomiting. Apart from nausea, the infected person can feel other flu symptoms too like high fever, headache, light-headedness, muscle aches, sore throat, cough, and fatigue.
Nausea is also a common symptom in heart attack cases, more so in women. This happens because the ischemic, necrotic, and injured cardiomyocytes from the infected, infarcted region of the heart release lactic acid, pyruvic acid, and other metabolites. The autonomic nerve peripheral receptors of the infarcted regions get affected by these metabolites and acids that cause cardiogenic-induced nausea and vomiting.
Dizziness or Lightheadedness
Dizziness or Lightheadedness is a common sign and symptom in cases of heart attacks and strokes. However, it is also one of the common symptoms in influenza cases. Flu symptoms are also accompanied by other signs that affect the upper respiratory tract. The person affected with flu may not feel in their complete element.
While the flu symptoms can be managed at home even without any medicine, if you feel the headache isn’t the usual one like that in a flu case and is accompanied by other symptoms too, it is time to rush to a medical facility and seek immediate care. The best way to differentiate between heart attack and flu symptoms is to check for the other tell-tale signs of the heart attack like swollen extremities, shortness of breath, unexplained fatigue, and generalised or localised chest pain.
Chills or Profuse Sweating
Breaking into a cold sweat or feeling chilly despite being in a controlled room setting is one of the first signs of having a heart attack. Though this is a common flu symptom too, if chills and profuse sweating occur almost immediately after other heart attack symptoms like chest pain, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath, there are higher chances of having a heart attack. You should seek medical attention right away in such cases. Bouts of chills and sweating come and go in the flu cases as the fever goes up and comes down.
Shortness of Breath
In regular flu cases, having shortness of breath is less likely. However, in some severe flu infections cases. One can experience shortness of breath or feeling of breathlessness accompanied by chest pain, dizziness or seizures. Shortness of breath is also a classic sign in heart attack cases along with other heart attack symptoms. Shortness of breath in flu cases can be mistaken for a heart attack and vice versa. It is wise to see a medical care provider immediately if this symptom occurs.
Fatigue or a general feeling of tiredness can stem from several reasons. One of the most critical reasons behind unexplained fatigue is a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when your heart isn’t functioning properly and it puts extra pressure on the heart to pump the blood. While in influenza cases, fatigue is one of the earliest symptoms that occur when the onset of flu begins and no other flu symptoms are visible. It is wise to visit a doctor if you’re experiencing fatigue along with other heart attack symptoms.
American Heart Association (AHA) that an important aspect of preventing the risk of cardiovascular diseases or heart diseases is having a complete grip on your health behaviour and managing risk factors. The quality of diet you consume is one of the most important factors along with physical activity, smoking, body mass index (BMI), controlling blood pressure, total cholesterol, and blood glucose levels.
Apart from keeping a check on your lifestyle, it is also critical to get yourself screened regularly for cardiac risk factors. Get heart health check-ups done at regular intervals and see a cardiologist right away if something feels off.