TUESDAY, Jan. 20, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Older patients hospitalized with pneumonia appear to have an increased risk of heart attack, stroke or death from heart disease for years afterward, a new study finds.
This elevated risk was highest in the first month after pneumonia -- fourfold -- but remained 1.5 times higher over subsequent years, the researchers say.
"A single episode of pneumonia could have long-term consequences several months or years later," said lead researcher Dr. Sachin Yende, an associate professor of critical care medicine and clinical and translational sciences at the University of Pittsburgh.
This year's flu season is particularly hard on older adults, and pneumonia is a serious complication of flu, he said. Getting a flu shot and the pneumonia vaccine "may not only prevent these infections, but may also prevent subsequent heart disease and stroke," Yende said.
Pneumonia, which affects 1.2 percent of the population in the northern hemisphere each year, is the most common cause of hospitalizations in the United States, the researchers said in background notes.
The report was published Jan. 20 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, said prior studies have suggested a link between hospitalization with pneumonia and increased risk of heart disease, stroke and death within the first few months.
The reason for this association isn't altogether clear, but Fonarow said he suspects that pneumonia triggers inflammation of the heart and blood vessels, thereby increasing the risk for heart disease and stroke.
"As patients hospitalized with pneumonia are at increased risk for heart disease, stroke and death, evaluating them for modifiable risk factors and improved use of effective prevention strategies, such as pneumonia vaccine, may be warranted," Fonarow said.
Yende's team collected data from nearly 6,000 people aged 65 and older who took part in the Cardiovascular Health Study and on nearly 16,000 people aged 45 to 64 who enrolled in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study.
Over 10 years of follow-up, of 591 people in the cardiovascular study hospitalized with pneumonia, 206 had a heart attack, a stroke or died from heart disease. Likewise, of 680 pneumonia cases among those in the atherosclerosis study, 112 had a heart attack, a stroke or died from heart disease, Yende's group found.
"The risk of heart disease or stroke with pneumonia was similar to the risk seen for other known risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or smoking," Yende added.
For more on pneumonia, visit the American Lung Association.