Researchers at Örebro University in Sweden are reporting increased risk of cardiovascular disease in adults previously hospitalized for pneumonia or sepsis. The results, published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, indicated that the chance of being diagnosed with cardiovascular disease was 6 times higher than average in adults in the year following infection. The critical period continued throughout years 2 and 3, during which risks were more than double. Although the risk decreased over time, a heightened risk continued for at least 5 years after infection.
The researchers studied 237,739 men through hospital records. The men were all born between 1952 and 1956 and were tracked from military medical assessments conducted at age 18, and then through 2010. The primary purpose of the study was to determine whether a critical period of vulnerability to cardiovascular disease existed following hospitalization for sepsis or pneumonia. In order to track periods of heightened risk, the researchers developed post-infection time intervals (0-1, >1-2, >2-3, >3-4, >4-5, and 5+ years).
Study results indicated that 46,754 men were diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. Among these men, a total of 9,987 hospitalizations for sepsis or pneumonia were reported from 8,534 men. After sorting the diagnoses into the post-infection time intervals, the researchers found that the risk of cardiovascular disease was 6.33 times higher in the first year after infection. In the second year, the risk remained heightened at 2.47 times, and during the fifth year the risk was still nearly double at 1.87. In addition, risk rates of heart disease and stroke were also elevated following sepsis or pneumonia infections.
To better understand the results, the research team also compared the risk of cardiovascular disease following severe infections to the risk of the disease as a result of lifestyle factors. The results indicated that the 3-year time period following hospitalization for serious infections were associated with greater risks of being diagnosed with cardiovascular disease than well-known cardiac health risk factors including hypertension, obesity, and lack of exercise, reinforcing that severe illness was a major influencer.
The researchers hypothesize that inflammation caused by the illnesses is related to the increased risk. Severe illnesses often result in high levels of inflammation that persist after hospitalization. At this point, the relationship to cardiovascular disease is classified as casual because of the decreased risk over time. However, the conclusions of this study may lead to investigative research to determine ways to prevent sepsis and pneumonia, and combat those factors of the illnesses that increase vulnerability to cardiovascular disease.
“Our findings provide another reason to protect against infection and suggest that there is a post-infection window of increased cardiovascular disease risk. We did not study any interventions that could be initiated during this period, but preventative therapies such as statins could be investigated,” said Scott Montgomery, PhD, adjunct professor, director of clinical epidemiology at Örebro University in the press release on the study.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) preventive measures to avoid sepsis include: caring for wounds properly, practicing good hygiene, and following treatment plans from medical professionals following diagnosis with an illness. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) advises to avoid smoking, maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and receive all flu vaccinations to avoid pneumonia.