MILLIONS of people may be at risk for a fatal heart problem because they are unaware of an important warning sign.
A leading charity has warned that persistent flu symptoms may actually mean you have a heart problem.
UK Cardiomyopathy said things like shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations and dizziness can be a sign of cardiomyopathy and myocarditis.
Now doctors are asking people to consider the possible underlying heart causes if they experience flu symptoms during the winter months.
It comes after a study that revealed that 95% of people do not know that persistent flu symptoms can be signs of conditions, cardiomyopathy and myocarditis.
Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle, while myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle.
And lack of awareness of the symptoms of these disorders means that most people would not go to GP with flu-like symptoms.
Breathing and chest pain
The new data reveal that this problem is critical during winter, when people with persistent flu symptoms are 59% less likely to visit GP compared with summer.
Dr. Jim Moore, President of the Cardiovascular Primary Care Society, said: “There is a degree of crossover between heart and flu-like symptoms, including shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations or dizziness.
"Although these symptoms may persist during the winter months, if a patient has persistent symptoms, it is important to consider the possible underlying cardiac causes.
"The flu season is undeniably a busy time for those in primary health care, but if worried, no one should feel guilty about seeking more advice."
Flu season in winter
And Joel Rose, CEO of Cardiomyopathy UK, urged people to visit the GP if they are concerned.
He added: "During the winter flu season, it is important for people to recognize the signs and symptoms of heart disease such as cardiomyopathy and myocarditis.
"With the flu cases and the common cold, people should listen to their body. If they are worried, they should visit or revisit the GP as soon as possible."
What is cardiomyopathy?
Cardiomyopathy is a general term for heart muscle disease, where the walls of the heart chambers stretch, thicken or stiffen.
This affects the heart's ability to pump blood through the body.
Some types of cardiomyopathy are inherited and are seen in children and younger people.
1. Dilated Cardiomyopathy
In dilated cardiomyopathy, the muscle walls of the heart are stretched and thin so that they cannot contract (tighten) properly to pump blood through the body.
If you have dilated cardiomyopathy, you are at increased risk for heart failure, where the heart fails to pump enough blood around the body at the right pressure.
2. Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy
In hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, heart muscle cells enlarge and the walls of the heart chambers thicken.
The chambers are reduced in size so that they may not contain much blood, and the walls may not relax properly and may harden.
3. Restrictive Cardiomyopathy
Restrictive cardiomyopathy is rare and mainly affects the elderly.
The walls of the main cardiac chambers become stiff and rigid and cannot relax properly after contraction. This means that the heart cannot properly fill with blood.
4. Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy
In arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (CVRA), the proteins that normally hold the heart muscle cells together are abnormal.
Muscle cells can die and dead muscle tissue is replaced by adipose and fibrous tissue.
Not everyone with cardiomyopathy will need treatment. Some people have only a mild form of the disease that they can control after making some lifestyle changes.
UK cardiomyopathy has also revealed that many people ignore the link between flu symptoms and heart problems due to preconceived ideas from a typical heart patient.
In particular, 63% of people associate heart conditions with overweight, unhealthy diet or lifestyle, inactivity or middle age.
In fact, cardiomyopathy is the leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young people.
It is a heart muscle disease that affects about one in 300 people.
If left unmanaged, it can lead to cardiac arrest – making early detection essential to saving lives.
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Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle wall.
This can affect heart performance: it means that the heart cannot pump properly and does not function as well as normal.
It also affects normal electrical signaling of the heart (heartbeat and rhythm) – this can cause irregular heart rhythms, known as arrhythmias.