MILLIONS of people could be at risk of a deadly heart condition because they are unaware of a key warning sign.
A leading charity has warned persistent flu-like symptoms could actually mean you have a heart problem.
Cardiomyopathy UK said things like breathlessness, chest pain, palpitations and dizziness can be a sign of cardiomyopathy and myocarditis.
Doctors are now urging people to consider the potential underlying cardiac causes if they experience flu symptoms during the winter months.
It comes following a study which revealed 95 per cent of people are unaware that persistent flu-like symptoms can be signs of the conditions, cardiomyopathy and myocarditis.
Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle, while myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle.
And lack of awareness of the symptoms of these disorders means the majority of people would not visit the GP with lingering flu-like symptoms.
Breathlessness and chest pain
The new data reveals this issue is paramount during winter, when people with lingering flu-like symptoms are 59 per cent less likely to visit the GP, compared to the summer.
Dr Jim Moore, President of the Primary Care Cardiovascular Society, said: “There is a degree of cross-over 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 the those of us in primary healthcare but, if concerned, no one should ever feel guilty about seeking further advice.”
Winter flu season
And Joel Rose, Chief Executive of Cardiomyopathy UK, urged people to visit the GP if they’re concerned.
He added: “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.”
What is cardiomyopathy?
Cardiomyopathy is a general term for diseases of the heart muscle, where the walls of the heart chambers have become stretched, thickened or stiff.
This affects the heart’s ability to pump blood around the body.
Some types of cardiomyopathy are inherited and are seen in children and younger people.
1. Dilated cardiomyopathy
In dilated cardiomyopathy the muscle walls of the heart have become stretched and thin, so they can’t contract (squeeze) properly to pump blood around the body.
If you have dilated cardiomyopathy, you’re at greater risk of heart failure, where the heart fails to pump enough blood around the body at the right pressure.
2. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
In hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the heart muscle cells have enlarged and the walls of the heart chambers thicken.
The chambers are reduced in size so they can’t hold much blood, and the walls can’t relax properly and may stiffen.
3. Restrictive cardiomyopathy
Restrictive cardiomyopathy is rare and mostly affects older adults.
The walls of the main heart chambers become stiffened and rigid and can’t relax properly after contracting. This means the heart can’t fill up properly with blood.
4. Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy
In arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC), the proteins that normally hold the heart muscle cells together are abnormal.
Muscle cells can die and the dead muscle tissue is replaced with fatty and fibrous tissue.
Not everyone with cardiomyopathy will need treatment. Some people only have a mild form of the disease that they can control after making a few lifestyle changes.
Cardiomyopathy UK also revealed that many people brush of the link between flu symptoms and heart conditions due to preconceived ideas of a typical heart patient.
In particular, 63 per cent of people associate cardiac conditions with being overweight, having an unhealthy diet or lifestyle, inactivity, or middle age.
In fact, cardiomyopathy is the top cause of sudden cardiac death in young people.
It is a disease of the heart muscle that affects around one in 300 people.
More on heart disease
If left unmanaged, it can lead to cardiac arrest – making early detection critical to saving lives.
Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart’s muscle wall.
It can affect how well the heart works: it means that the heart can’t pump properly and doesn’t work as well as normal.
It also affects the normal electrical signalling of the heart (the heart’s beat and rhythm) – this can cause irregular heart rhythms known as arrhythmias.