High blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and tobacco smoking are all known risk factors for stroke, and heart attacks over a long period of time. University of Minnesota School of Public Health researchers have found that infections such as pneumonia and urinary tract infections also increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes over the shorter time frame of three months. These infections act as “acute triggers” of heart attacks and strokes in contrast to chronic illnesses.
The study was recently published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Senior author and associate professor Dr. Kamakshi Lakshminarayan and School of Public Health Ph.D. student Mr. Logan Cowan used data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, which followed a large cohort from four communities in the U.S. for more than 30 years, to examine whether acute infections can trigger heart attacks and strokes.
The researchers studied 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. The study found that:
“The key to explaining the association between acute infections and the short-term increased risk of strokes and heart attacks is inflammation,” said Dr. Lakshminarayan. “Inflammation promotes plaque build up in blood vessels and also increases the tendency of these plaques to rupture, thereby blocking blood vessels. Another key aspect is that infection ‘activates platelets’ and makes them more sticky or prone to adhesion, which increases the likelihood of blocking blood vessels as well.”
“Infection prevention is key — so vaccination for influenza and pneumonia is important,” said Mr. Cowan. “Perhaps we should also consider infection as a ‘treatable moment’ during which cardiovascular preventive strategies should be implemented.”