A heart attack (myocardial infarction or MI) is a serious medical emergency in which the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot. Blood clots form over time however, and are usually the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as being overweight and smoking. Research exploring the formation of blood clots and the subsequent risk of having a heart attack have uncovered another link in the chain.
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Researchers have linked infections such as pneumonia and urinary tract infections to blood clots and a subsequent risk of having a coronary event, such as a heart attack, or stroke within the next three months.
In the study published recently in the Journal of the American Heart Association, academic researchers examined a registry of patients tracked over multiple years in four US cities.
They looked at 1,312 patients who had a heart attack or other type of coronary event, and 727 other patients who had an ischemic stroke, the kind caused by a blood clot.
Of the heart disease patients, about 37 percent had some type of infection within the previous three months. Among stroke patients, it was nearly 30 percent.
Infections substantially increased the odds of having a heart attack or stroke compared to a year or two earlier in the same group of patients, and those odds were highest in the first two weeks following the infection.
Infections and blood clots
Infections generally trigger an inflammatory reaction in the body, said Dr Kamakshi Lakshminarayan, a neurologist and the study’s senior author.
The body triggers its white cell production to help ward off an infection, but that process also increases the stickiness of cells called platelets, she said.
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This encourages the formation of clots that could block the flow of blood to the heart or brain.
“The infection appears to be the trigger for changing the finely tuned balance in the blood and making us more prone to thrombosis, or clot formation,” said Dr Lakshminarayan, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota’s medical school.
Dr Lakshminarayan added: “It’s a trigger for the blood vessels to get blocked up and puts us at higher risk of serious events like heart attack and stroke.”
Urinary tract infection, or UTI, was the most common type of infection reported in the study, followed by pneumonia and other respiratory infections.
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Skin and blood infections also were reported.
How do I know if I have a UTI?
“Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can affect different parts of your urinary tract, including your bladder (cystitis), urethra (urethritis) or kidneys (kidney infection),” explains the NHS.
There are a number of symptoms of a UTI associated with urinating to watch out for.
According to the NHS, these include:
- Needing to urinate suddenly or more often than usual
- Pain or a burning sensation when urinating
- Smelly or cloudy urine
- Blood in your urine
What are the general symptoms of a heart attack?
According to the British Heart Foundation (BHF), heart attack symptoms can vary but the most common signs of a heart attack are:
- Chest pain or discomfort that suddenly occurs and doesn’t go away. It may feel like pressure, squeezing or heaviness in your chest
- Pain that may spread to your left or right arm or may spread to your neck, jaw, back or stomach
- Feeling sick, sweaty, light-headed or short of breath.
Other less common symptoms include:
- A sudden feeling of anxiety that can feel similar to a panic attack
- Excessive coughing or wheezing due to a buildup of fluid in the lungs.
- Pain levels can also vary from person to person.
The BHF explains: “For some people the pain or tightness in their chest is severe, while other people just feel uncomfortable, or pain similar to indigestion.
“Heart attack symptoms can persist over days, or they can come on suddenly and unexpectedly.”
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