Flu and Your Heart: Can Flu Make Your Heart Sick?

When it comes to flu and your heart, the bad news is, flu can make your heart sick. Just not in that angsty, teenage, love-struck way. It’s more life-threatening than that (although your teen may not agree) and involves mounting research showing a link between influenza and both heart attack and stroke.

A January 2018 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine confirmed the heart/flu link. The study found that heart attacks are six times more likely in the seven days following a flu diagnosis. They also noted that heart attack risk increased slightly for those over 65 and that sixty-nine percent of study participants had not received a flu shot.

The good news is, researchers from UT-Houston found that the flu shot probably reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke or sudden death by as much as 25 percent. They estimate that 90,000 coronary deaths a year could be prevented in the U.S. if more heart patients received flu shots. Four additional studies suggest that the flu vaccination does in fact protect against atherosclerosis — a condition which hardens and clogs arteries from a buildup of fatty deposits, or plaque. These plaque deposits can become dislodged during episodes of inflammation, such as having the flu, and can cause blood clots and heart attacks.


We asked Keith Vasenius, DO, an interventional cardiologist at Medical City Fort Worth, to discuss flu and your heart, including whether cardiac patients are more susceptible to the flu, if regular heart medications should be continued during the flu, and some of the health and lifestyle factors that can increase someone’s risk for heart disease.

Dr. Vasenius noted that flu can be hard on anybody — it’s a tough disease and it can set you up for secondary infections and other diseases, such as pneumonia. Most people in good health will suffer five to seven days with the flu and get better — they generally don’t need to go to the ER. But, it’s the very young, the very old and people with other medical problems, such as heart disease, who might need to consider going to the ER if they are having complications with the flu.

Unfortunately, there is no minimum age requirement for heart disease or stroke — they can affect anyone at any age, including a high school soccer star and a 21-year-old college student.

Flu and your heart: Are cardiac patients more at risk?

Cardiac patients are at no higher risk of getting the flu than everyone else but, because they have heart problems, they are more likely to get sicker with the flu. Flu is a respiratory illness and because of that, patients can develop problems with appropriate oxygen levels, which can affect every organ in the body, including the heart. It can especially take a toll on the heart if you already have heart problems.

“As a chest pain center, Medical City Fort Worth is seeing a number of cardiac patients being treated with flu complications,” said Dr. Vasenius. “For example, a patient might have low ejection fraction (EF), meaning their heart doesn’t pump very well. Untreated flu complications can lead to tachycardia, where the heart beats faster than normal while at rest. This makes the heart work harder and, in turn, can put it at risk for demand ischemia, a type of heart attack that can happen when a patient’s heart needs more oxygen than is available in the body’s supply. It may occur in patients with infection, anemia or abnormally fast heart rates.”

Flu and your heart: Should heart patients with flu continue regular medications?

With the flu and other illnesses, it’s important for heart patients to continue taking the medications their doctor has prescribed to treat their heart condition. That includes blood pressure and cholesterol medications.

“Sometimes when people are feeling ill — maybe they’re having nausea and vomiting — they don’t take their heart medications as prescribed,” Dr. Vasenius said. “This can lead to bad outcomes so, if this is happening to you, be sure and tell your doctor. If you let us know early enough, we can make adjustments for that.”


Pay attention to the warning signs of a potential heart attack.

Flu complications can develop very quickly, so it’s important to pay attention to signs and symptoms. Dr. Vasenius said he always watches for these classic warning signs of a potential heart problem, with or without the flu:

  • Shortness of breath and chest pain — discomfort, extreme squeezing or pressure
  • Dizziness or feeling like you might faint

If you have these symptoms in activities or situations where you’ve never had problems before, you should be seen by a medical professional immediately. That’s especially important if you have any risk factors for heart disease, including:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Smoking

If you have two or more of these risk factors, you should see a doctor to be screened for heart disease — with or without the flu.

Finally, protect yourself by getting your flu shot every year. The flu can be a life-threatening infection, especially in people at risk.

Flu shots are available at CareNow Urgent Care locations across DFW.

If you have the flu and any of the symptoms or risk factors listed above, one of our many Medical City ER locations across North Texas can help you avoid getting heart sick. With average wait times posted online, if you do have an emergency, you can spend less time waiting and more time on the moments that matter most.

Find a fast Medical City ER near you or call our free, 24/7 Ask a Nurse hotline.

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9 Most Popular Health and Safety Blogs of the Year

We know it’s a full-time job taking care of your family’s health and safety, so we’re committed to doing all we can to help. That’s why we’ve presented this roundup of our top 9 health and safety blogs of 2017. Whether you’re concerned about snakebites, the opioid crisis, burns, texting on the toilet or other hot topics, we’ve got the expert advice you’re looking for — including ways to keep your family out of the ER.

Health and Safety Blog No. 1: Do You Know What to Do in a Snakebite Emergency?

Snakes have been in the news for the last few years, flushed out of their natural habitats by several consecutive wet seasons in North Texas. 2018 could very well follow that trend, so brush up on your snakebite emergency skills. You might also want to add these blogs to your list of serpent-themed surfing:

Snakes in the Grass: Know How to Avoid and Treat Snakebites

Pokémon Go: Know How to Avoid Injuries and Ekans Bites

Multigen-family-running-FB.jpgHealth and Safety Blog No. 2: First Aid for Burns: 5 Things You Should Never Do

We all learned “stop, drop and roll” in school but not how to treat burn injuries. Some of the most common burn treatment myths, such as using butter, are just that — incorrect information that can cause more harm than good. This blog will teach you how to recognize the severity of a burn and how to avoid the most common mistakes people make when treating burns. If you’re looking for an advanced degree in burns, add these to your reading list:

Learn About Burns: Get Schooled in Burn Awareness

How to be Fire-Safe and What to Do if You Get Burned

Don’t Get Burned: Know the Top Rules of Fire Safety

Jason West, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Medical City Denton, discusses when to go the ER for a burn and how to tell what percentage of a person’s body is burned.

Health and Safety Blog No. 3: Bathroom Blues: Are You Taking Your Tech to the Toilet?

The No. 3 spot goes to constipation and hemorrhoids. As well it should, since our expert says it takes just 20 minutes a day lounging in the loo to bum out your bum.

Health and Safety Blog No. 4: 10 Signs You Need to Go to the ER

From chest and abdominal pain to persistent vomiting, diarrhea and depression, this blog is packed with tips for how to recognize when your symptoms need emergency medical attention.

Manisha Gupta, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Medical City Denton, explains when your stomach pain warrants a trip to the ER.

Health and Safety Blog No 5: Five Opportunities and Insights from “13 Reasons Why”  

“13 Reasons Why” became the most-watched Netflix show when season one debuted last March. Based on a novel, the story centers on teen suicide and got parents, teachers and kids talking about this previously taboo subject. In this blog, our Medical City Green Oaks Hospital expert offers insight into how to use the show as an opportunity to talk to your own kids about depression, bullying, sexual assault and more.

In the follow-up blog, How “13 Reasons Why” Can Be a Lessons for All Ages, our expert discusses the growing rates of suicide in middle-aged adults and seniors.

Health and Safety Blog No 6: What You Need to Know About RSV

RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is the virus responsible for a whole host of respiratory conditions, including colds, bronchitis, pneumonia and croup. Most children will have had an RSV infection by the age of two. In kids younger than 3, RSV can cause a dangerous illness called bronchiolitis — the most common cause of hospitalization in infants 12 months old and younger.

Health and Safety Blog No 7: The Growing Opioid Crisis: What You Need to Know

Labeled an epidemic by the CDC, the opioid crisis continues to take the lives of Americans of every age, race and socioeconomic level. In fact, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among those under 50. Read what our expert has to say about this growing concern, learn how to spot opioid abuse, discover common drugs you may not have known were opioids and find out what type of drugs you should never mix with opioids.

Health and Safety Blog No 8: How Much Water Do You Need to Drink Every Day?

The human body is made up of mostly water and yet almost 70% of us don’t drink enough to keep our bodies functioning properly. Symptoms of dehydration begin when we’ve lost just 1% of our water. At 2-3%, things start to crash. Could your fatigue, irritability, headache, dry skin or fuzzy brain be “cured” just by drinking more water? Read this and find out.


Health and Safety Blog No 9: Heartburn or Heart Attack? How to Save Your Own Life.

The symptoms of heartburn and heart attack can be surprisingly similar. In fact, heartburn is often a sign of heart attack, especially in women. Our experts discuss how to tell the difference between the two and when to call 911 or head to the nearest ER.

Steven Kaster, MD, a gastroenterologist at Medical City McKinney, shares the signs and symptoms of heart attack and heartburn and how to tell the difference.

Matt Bush, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Medical City Dallas, shares how to save a life with hands-only CPR.

For expert emergency care whenever you’re concerned about your family’s health and safety, one of our many Medical City ER locations across North Texas has you covered. With average wait times posted online, if you do have an emergency, you can spend less time waiting and more time on the moments that matter most.

Find a fast Medical City ER near you or call our free, 24/7 Ask a Nurse hotline.

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How to Know if You Have Flu Symptoms

It’s another harsh flu season in North Texas and across the entire U.S., where packed ERs and urgent care centers are treating large numbers of sick patients for flu and influenza-like illness (ILI, or acute respiratory infection), RSV, strep and more. In a CNN article, a CDC spokesperson said it’s because of this year’s predominant strain — influenza A H3N2 — which affects younger and older populations more and so tends to be more severe.

At least 54 flu deaths have occurred in Dallas County alone this flu season, which began in October and typically peaks in February. However, because flu deaths in children under 18 are the only ones required to be reported, the numbers across all counties are probably much higher.

How to tell if you have the symptoms of flu, a cold or the stomach flu.

20171212 HCA Influenza Infographic

When to go to the ER with flu.

If you feel like you have flu-like symptoms, Manisha Gupta, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Medical City Denton, says it’s important to go to the ER if you’re part of a high-risk population, including:

  • People with a compromised immune system
  • Infants and young children
  • Elderly adults
  • People with other chronic health conditions such as COPD or heart disease

In an interview with the Denton Record-Chronicle, Hani Khair, MD, medical director of epidemiology and chief epidemiologist at Medical City Denton, said that public health officials are urging doctors and patients to treat suspected cases of flu as such even if a quick-test isn’t conclusive. Once a person comes down with the flu, the only way to take the edge off is with Tamiflu, a prescription medicine. The medicine isn’t for everyone (and most people don’t need it) but can help people with chronic medical conditions, Dr. Khair said.

Other reasons to visit an ER with flu-like symptoms, according to Dr. Khair, is if the sick person also displays:

Also, if the person appears to be getting better and suddenly relapses with a fever or other symptoms, they should come to the hospital because complications may have developed, Dr. Khair said.


The possible complications of flu.

Another reason that flu deaths are hard to tally is because they are often attributed to flu’s complications, which can include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Inflammation of the
    • Heart (myocarditis)
    • Brain (encephalitis)
    • Muscle tissues (myositis, rhabdomyolysis)
  • Multi-organ failure
  • Sepsis
  • Worsening of existing conditions, such as asthma or chronic heart disease

Dr. Charles Phillips, MD, medical director of the emergency department at Medical City Arlington, explains how to recognize symptoms of pneumonia and who is most at risk for this dangerous illness.

The flu shot is still your best bet at prevention.

According to Nathan Holbrook, DO, an emergency medicine physician at Medical City Arlington, the flu shot is still the best preventive measure against getting ill. “The CDC estimates that the flu vaccine prevents 5 million cases of flu a year,” he said.

Flu shots are available at 30 CareNow Urgent Care locations across DFW.

Other prevention tips include washing hands and staying away from sick people, if possible.

If you are sick, Dr. Khair suggests you need to stay home, rest and try not to infect others. Watch the video below to learn the correct ways to cough and sneeze so you won’t spread your germs.

Arlene Jacobs, MD, an OB/GYN at Medical City Plano, said pregnant women can and should get a flu shot regardless of how far along they are.

“Flu shots are recommended in every trimester unless you have an allergy to the vaccine,” she said. “Flu in pregnancy can be very life-threatening and can lead to pneumonia, meningitis, brain abnormalities and respiratory problems. That’s why we recommend the flu shot for all pregnant patients.”

snot germs

If the flu has you under the weather, you’ll find expert emergency care at one of our many Medical City ER locations across North Texas. With average wait times posted online, if you do have an emergency, you can spend less time waiting and more time on the moments that matter most.

Find a fast Medical City ER near you or call our free, 24/7 Ask a Nurse hotline.

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Seizures and Fainting: How to Know When to Go To the ER

If you’ve ever seen someone faint or have a seizure, you know that it can happen suddenly and without warning. It can also be very frightening for everyone involved. Both reactions are the body’s way of telling us that something is wrong. Diagnosing the source of the seizure or fainting spell is something that should be left to a medical professional, as there are many different conditions that can cause these reactions. Here’s what you need to know about seizures and fainting and when to go to the ER.

Common conditions that cause seizures.

A seizure happens when there is a sudden, abnormal change in the brain’s electrical activity.

“Seizures can be caused by a variety of conditions that directly and indirectly affect our brains,” said Aamr Herekar, MD, a neurologist at Medical City Fort Worth. These include:

  • Brain tumors
  • Brain hemorrhages
  • Developmental malformations of the brain
  • Stroke
  • High fever in children, which can cause febrile seizures
  • Very low sodium levels (hyponatremia)
  • Very low or very high blood sugars
  • Genetic disorders
  • Some medications/drugs

“But by far, the most common causes of seizures are unknown,” Dr. Herekar said.

Epilepsy is a seizure disorder that affects about 3.4 million Americans. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, 6 out of 10 people with epilepsy have no diagnosable cause for their condition.

About 3% of people with epilepsy have photosensitive epilepsy, which means their seizures can be triggered by exposure to flashing lights at certain intensities or certain visual patterns. This type of epilepsy is more common in children and adolescents and episodes can decrease with age.


How to recognize seizures.

According to Dr. Herekar, seizures can be easy or hard to recognize, depending on which part of the brain is seizing. The person may or may not lose consciousness. The seizure may involve the whole body, repeated jerking of a single limb or simply hand rubbing or picking at clothing.

However, there are common elements to look for that can help you identify a seizure.

“Most seizures include staring, decreased responsiveness and lip smacking movements, Dr. Herekar said.”

When to get medical help for seizures.

When someone is having a seizure, Dr. Herekar says that the best thing you can do is to place them away from harm. For example, keep them away from sharp objects and make sure that they don’t choke on anything by laying them on their side. Don’t put anything in their mouth or hold them down.

Dr. Herekar recommends calling 911 for seizures that:

  • Last beyond one minute
  • Begin to happen more frequently (occur back-to-back)

You should always inform your doctor of any seizures or other unusual medical symptoms regardless of how severe they are.

Common conditions that cause fainting (including seizures).

When someone faints, they lose consciousness due to a sudden decrease of blood to the brain.

Dale Yoo, MD, a cardio electrophysiologist at Medical City McKinney, says that an episode of fainting can be a sign of a seizure disorder.

“That would always be abnormal and needs medical attention,” he said.

Conditions that can lead to fainting include:

  • Seizure disorders (including epilepsy)
  • Electrolyte abnormalities in the heart or brain
  • Dehydration
  • Low or high potassium or magnesium levels
  • Other heart issues, including:

“If fainting is caused by a low heart rate, a pacemaker is the only thing that will correct it,” Dr. Yoo said. “On the other hand, your brain may tell your heart to take a five-second break or your heart does it on its own. It goes on lunch break but you need that five seconds of blood pressure in order to stay awake — otherwise you pass out.”

When to get medical help for fainting.

A fainting episode normally lasts a few seconds to several minutes. Always let your doctor know about any episodes of fainting and seek immediate help for all medical emergencies. When in doubt, call 911 or head to the nearest ER.

If you feel faint:

  • Lie down or sit down.
  • If sitting, place head between knees.
  • Avoid getting up too quickly.

If someone else faints:

  • Position the person face-up.
    • If there are no injuries and the person is breathing, raise their legs above their heart level (about 12 inches) if possible.
    • Loosen belts, collars and other constrictive clothing.
  • If the person doesn’t regain consciousness within one minute, call 911.
  • Check for breathing and begin CPR if necessary.

For expert emergency care in any situation, one of our many Medical City ER locations across North Texas has you covered. With average wait times posted online, if you do have an emergency, you can spend less time waiting and more time on the moments that matter most.

Find a fast Medical City ER near you or call our free, 24/7 Ask a Nurse hotline.

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What You Need to Know About RSV

It’s about time for RSV — respiratory syncytial virus — to make the rounds again in North Texas. In the U.S., RSV is most common in fall, winter and early spring. Infants, young children, older adults, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems are typically at higher risk.

A study published in the Journal of Pediatric Pharmacology and Therapeutics found that in one year, RSV was responsible for the following in children under 5 years of age:

  • 7 million doctor visits
  • 638,000 ER and hospital outpatient visits
  • 86,000 hospitalizations

Data from the CDC shows that in adults over 65 years of age, each year RSV causes, on average:

  • 177,000 hospitalizations
  • 14,000 deaths

RSV — really spreadable virus.

RSV is highly contagious. Your chances of catching RSV are about as high as that of catching the common cold. That’s because RSV is one of the causes of the common cold. It also causes bronchitis, pneumonia, croup, middle ear infections and asthma.

Children under 12 months old are very susceptible to complications from RSV, including pneumonia and bronchiolitis, the most common cause of hospitalization in infants.

The reason that RSV can be so dangerous for infants and older adults is because it affects the ability to breathe. Symptoms of bronchiolitis and pneumonia include inflamed, congested airways filled with mucus, wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath.

At the highest risk of getting a severe RSV infection are babies born prematurely and those with lung, heart or other chronic illnesses, according to information released by the March of Dimes during RSV Awareness Month.

Fred Johnson, DO, associate medical director for pediatric emergency services at Medical City Children’s Hospital, talks about how to recognize when a child needs emergency care for a respiratory illness.

How to prevent RSV.

RSV is spread through droplet transmission. It’s passed from person to person through coughs and sneezes or from contact with surfaces containing the virus, such as hands, clothing, toys, food and more. There is currently no vaccine to prevent RSV.

The best defense against RSV and its complications is to:

  • Wash your hands often and teach children to do the same
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay away from sick people and keep them away from infants
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and items to remove germs
  • Stay home when you’re sick and keep kids home from school and day care when they have a bug

How to treat RSV and what the color of your mucus means.

Matt Bush, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Medical City Dallas and Medical City Children’s Hospital, says that about 95% of upper respiratory conditions start off as viral infections, which aren’t treatable with antibiotics.

Treat the symptoms of a viral respiratory infection with:

  • Plenty of fluids to stay hydrated and thin mucus
  • A cool-mist humidifier to help clear stuffy noses and reduce coughing
  • Saline nose drops (try a bulb syringe to clear your baby’s nose)
  • Non-aspirin pain and fever medications as needed

If you or someone in your family experiences breathing problems or other complications from RSV, one of our many Medical City Healthcare emergency locations has you covered. With average wait times posted online, if you do have an emergency, you can spend less time waiting and more time on the moments that matter most.

Find a fast Medical City Healthcare ER near you or call our free 24/7 Ask-A-Nurse hotline.

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Bathroom Blues: Are You Taking Your Tech to the Toilet?

How your phone can give you hemorrhoids and why constipation is making headline news.

It’s a fact of modern life: Your phone, tablet or other tech can give you hemorrhoids if you take them to the bathroom with you on a regular basis.

“If you hang out on the toilet for 20 minutes a day, texting, playing games, posting on social media or reading your Kindle®, you will get hemorrhoids,” said Laurie Novosad, MD, a colorectal surgeon at Medical City McKinney. “Sit down with the lid closed and hang out all you want, but with the lid up, there’s no support. The more you sit, the more pressure you place on your anal area.”

The American Academy of Family Physicians agrees that hemorrhoids — swollen veins in your rectum or anus that may or may not hurt, bleed or itch — can be caused by sitting too long on the toilet. Other risk factors for hemorrhoids include:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Lifting heavy objects and any activity that causes straining
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy and giving birth
  • Standing for long periods

“Hemorrhoids are very common,” said Dr. Novosad. “They affect more than 50 percent of the population. Aging is also a risk factor — more than 50 percent of people over 50 will have hemorrhoids.”

To prevent and treat external hemorrhoids, follow Dr. Novosad’s advice for avoiding constipation, further below, and:

  • Soak in a sitz bath (warm, shallow bath) for 10-15 minutes as needed
  • Use wipes that contain witch hazel, such as Tucks®
  • Apply over-the-counter topical steroid cream for up to 2 weeks
  • If hemorrhoids remain or become worse, see your doctor

Constipation: making headline news.

On the heels of the opioid crisis comes another American epidemic: opioid-induced constipation, or OIC. The problem is so widespread that there are now prescription medications for the condition.

Each year constipation accounts for:

  • More than 700,000 emergency room visits
  • More than 48,000 hospitalizations (up more than 50% since 1997)
  • Millions of doctor’s office visits

There are plenty of other things stopping Americans up and they’re making international headlines. One of them, according to the Daily Mail, is modern life — featuring a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle spent behind a desk or on the couch. It’s causing at least 16% of Americans to suffer from constipation, including more than a third of people over 60, according to the American Gastroenterological Association.

How often should you be going?

According to Harvard Medical School, about 95% of healthy adults have bowel movements anywhere from three times a day to three times a week. Constipation is defined as having less than three in a week or having hard, dry stools that are difficult to pass.

If you experience these symptoms multiple times over a three-month period, you may have chronic constipation and should see your doctor immediately to avoid an impacted bowel or worse.

Sitting and straining on the toilet, trying to make something happen, isn’t the best idea either, as it can lead to hemorrhoids. And once you have hemorrhoids, you’re less likely to want to go to the bathroom, which just compounds the problem.

“Some people think they must have a bowel movement at the same time every day or there’s something wrong,” Dr. Novosad said. “But that’s not the case. Often, if you just relax, it will happen.”

How to prevent and treat constipation.

But what if it doesn’t happen? Here are Dr. Novosad’s recommendations:

  • Eat at least 30 grams of fiber daily
    • Avocados have 11 grams of fiber per cup and are rich in healthy fats and vitamins B-6 and C
    • Raspberries have 9 grams of fiber per cup, as well as more than half of your daily recommended vitamin C
  • Drink at least 64 ounces of water daily
    • Dehydration is a huge cause of constipation, so drink enough water so that you’re rarely thirsty and your urine is colorless to light yellow
    • Women over 65 have a dampened thirst reflex and must make a conscious effort to drink water
  • Exercise regularly
    • The American Heart Association’s weekly recommendations:
      • 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activities or 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activities and
      • Two days of muscle-strengthening activities
    • Exercise isn’t all or nothing; any activity is better than none so just get up and move!
  • Choose the right laxative
    • If you have hemorrhoids, use only bulk-forming laxatives, such as Fiberall® and Metamucil®, as other types can cause diarrhea
  • Go when you have the urge
    • If you feel the need to have a bowel movement, go as quickly as possible; the longer you hold it in, the harder and dryer the stool becomes

Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program or using new medications.

Alex Lee, MD, a gastroenterologist at Medical City Dallas, talks about colon cancer and the importance of colorectal screenings, such as colonoscopy.

If you or someone in your family needs expert, emergency care fast, one of our many Medical City Healthcare emergency locations has you covered. With average wait times posted online, if you do have an emergency, you can spend less time waiting and more time on the moments that matter most.

Find a fast Medical City Healthcare ER near you or call our free 24/7 Ask a Nurse hotline.

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