Winter flu outbreaks can mask serious heart conditions, a charity has warned, as patients blame lingering symptoms on the virus instead of seeing a doctor.
Persistent fever, aches, chest pain, palpitations or dizziness can be a symptom of cardiomyopathy and myocarditis – heart diseases that make it harder for the organ to pump blood.
Cardiomyopathy refers to a collection of conditions that affect the structure of the heart, while myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart’s muscle wall that can cause irregular heart rhythms.
Viral infections such as flu are among the top causes of the disease, although it can also be caused by bacterial and fungal infections, parasites and allergic reactions to medicine and illegal drugs.
Research by charity Cardiomyopathy UK found 95% of people were unaware that being unable to shake off the symptoms of flu could be a sign of the diseases.
It found 42% of people with lingering flu symptoms who did not visit their GP said they had assumed the signs would go away by themselves.
A further 27% said they felt guilty for wasting their doctor’s time.
Cardiomyopathy affects around one in every 300 people, the charity said, and is the biggest cause of cardiac death in young people.
About 60% of sufferers were not initially recognised as having the condition, Cardiomyopathy UK found, with 17% waiting more than a year for the correct diagnosis.
Joel Rose, chief executive of Cardiomyopathy UK, said: “During the winter flu season, it’s important that people recognise the signs and symptoms of cardiac diseases such as cardiomyopathy and myocarditis.
“With cases of flu and the common cold rife, people must listen to their body. If concerned, they should visit, or revisit, the GP as soon as possible.”
Dr Jim Moore, president of the Primary Care Cardiovascular Society, said: “There is a degree of crossover between cardiac and flu-like symptoms including breathlessness, chest pain, palpitations or dizziness.
“While these symptoms can linger during the winter months, if a patient is experiencing persistent symptoms, it is important to consider the potential underlying cardiac causes.
“Flu season is undeniably a busy time for those of us in primary healthcare but, if concerned, no one should ever feel guilty about seeking further advice.”