SPOKANE, Wash. -- Medical professionals around the country urge people to get the latest flu shot every year, and it turns out it could protect you from more than just the virus. A new study in the New England Journal of medicine reports that the chances of a heart attack are six times higher during the first seven days after contracting the flu.

The study followed nearly 150,000 people who were tested for the flu. Of the people who tested positive, 332 had a heart attack in the year before or after their flu specimen was tested. The study also found that chances were higher in the first three days after contracting the flu, with chances 6.3 times higher then, and 5.8 times higher in the following days.

Flu Shot

"This season has been devastating for patients with heart diseases, diabetes, and asthma," says Dr. Ravi Dave, a cardiologist at UCLA. Many people confuse colds and upper respiratory infections with the flu, but flu symptoms are much more severe. The American Heart Association recommends anybody with underlying heart diseases to get their annual flu and pneumonia shots.

One-quarter of the patients in the study were 65 years old, and the remaining were older. When age brackets were separated, a higher correlation between the flu and heart attack was found in older patients.

Viral infections like the flu can lead to additional bacterial infections such as pneumonia. These infections could prevent your lungs from getting oxygen to your body causing stress that can affect blood pressure, heart rate, overall heart function, and in some cases, even increase the risk of a stroke. Chest pain is the most common sign of a heart attack. However, doctors warn that sudden sweating, pains and shortness of breath are all flu-like symptoms that should be taken seriously because they could also be the early signs of a heart attack.