In a recent study, researchers found that common infections may increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes and, in the longer term, death.
A British team at Aston Medical School showed patients admitted to hospital with a urinary or respiratory tract infection were far more likely to experience subsequent heart attacks or strokes.
In the study, the researchers looked at 14 years of data from 1.2million patients.
They compared 34,027 patients and wanted to know whether patients who had been admitted for respiratory and urinary tract infections were at increased risk of events such as heart attacks and strokes caused by atherosclerosis (build-up of plaque in artery walls).
The role of inflammation in this process has recently received a great deal of scientific attention, but very little is known about the role of infection in this process.
The researchers found that those with prior infection were much more likely to experience subsequent heart attacks or strokes.
The results also suggested that patients who had common infections were three times more likely to die than those without prior infection after developing heart disease, and almost twice as likely to die if they had a stroke.
The effects of infection were similar to diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol – and more than obesity.
Although inflammation has been linked to atherosclerosis, this is the largest study to show that common infection is such a significant risk factor.
Serious infections are amongst the biggest causes of death in the UK directly, but the research shows infections that are severe enough to lead to hospitalization may present a delayed risk in the form of these atherosclerotic diseases.
The research has paved the way for future therapies to target systemic inflammation and managing cardiovascular risk after an infection is important, and further research is required.
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Source: University of Aston.