Pneumonia raises heart attack, stroke risk in older adults, study finds
Pneumonia can have long-lasting implications
A new study suggests that seniors who develop a bout of pneumonia severe enough to require hospitalization are at an increased risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or dying of heart failure.
For adults 65 and older, the increased risk is highest in the first year following the infection, but the risk remains elevated for a decade.
In the first 30 days, in fact, their risk of having a heart disease event is four times higher than that of people who were not hospitalized with pneumonia.
For younger adults, the risk is also elevated, but not to the same extent and it appears to level off after two years.
The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Lead author Dr. Vicente Corrales-Medina of the Ottawa Hospital says people who have been hospitalized with pneumonia should be alerted to their elevated heart disease risk and take steps to try to protect themselves.
They should ensure their blood pressure, cholesterol levels and other such risk factors are under control.
Dr. Jacob Udell, a cardiologist who has been studying the effect of influenza on heart disease risk, says the findings should also make doctors pay more attention to the potential consequences of infections like pneumonia.
"This should be a [wake-up] call and an eye-opener for anybody who thinks that these events are simply short-term things that have no long-lasting implications," says Udell, who was not involved with this study. Udell works at Toronto's Women's College Hospital.
Corrales-Medina says it's not currently known why pneumonia appears to increase a person's risk of having a heart event, though other infections are also thought to increase the risk.
But he says doctors and patients should take whatever steps they can to prevent pneumonia in people aged 65 and older. They should ensure these individuals get vaccinated with the pneumococcal vaccine, which protects against Streptococcus pneumoniae, one of the causes of pneumonia.
They should also get an annual flu shot, he says, since influenza can develop into pneumonia, particularly among the elderly.