Pneumonia: A Lung Infection That Could Also Affect Heart Health

Pneumonia: A Lung Infection That Could Also Affect Heart Health

Lee esto en EspañolEvery year, nearly one million people in the United States end up in the hospital with pneumonia. Along with making breathing difficult, the infection places stress on the heart. The added stress raises the risk for heart attack, stroke and dying of heart disease.

The risk doesn’t go away after pneumonia is gone. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association leaving site icon  shows it can last for years. Older people hospitalized with pneumonia have four times the risk of having a heart attack or stroke or dying of heart disease in the month after their illness. The risk remains nearly 50 percent higher for 10 years.


Infections like pneumonia boost inflammation in the body – including inside the arteries. Blood can’t flow like it should and is more likely to clot and cause a heart attack or stroke.

Know Your Risks

Pneumonia can affect anyone, but some groups are more affected than others. People 65 and older have a higher risk. A weakened immune system, chronic lung disease and smoking cigarettes also boost the risk.

Vaccines Offer Protection

The pneumonia shot is the best way to protect against one kind of pneumonia. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend you get the shot if you:

  • Are 65 or older
  • Have a high risk for pneumonia
  • Suffer from asthma
  • Smoke cigarettes

Talk with your doctor to find out if you should have the pneumonia shot. Learn more about how to prevent pneumonia leaving site icon  from the CDC.

Pneumonia or Flu

Symptoms for pneumonia are a lot like the flu: headache, muscle aches and fever. Sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart, but people who have pneumonia often have a bad cough and trouble breathing.

If you do come down with the flu, you also have a risk for pneumonia. Help protect yourself by getting a flu shot each fall. The CDC urges all adults have a yearly flu shot. Ask your doctor about getting a yearly flu shot.

Protect Your Heart

Other than trying to prevent pneumonia, there are small steps you can make to protect your heart in the long run. The American Heart Association leaving site icon suggests to:

  • Quit smoking
  • Stay a healthy weight
  • Drink plenty of fluids each day
  • Skip or limit alcohol and caffeine
  • Eat heart-healthy foods
  • Stay active
  • Rest and relax
  • Learn to handle stress
  • Watch your blood pressure
Sources: Prevent Pneumonia, leaving site icon  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020; Pneumonia, leaving site icon  MedlinePlus, 2021; Association Between Hospitalization for Pneumonia and Subsequent Risk of Cardiovascular Disease, leaving site icon  Journal of the American Medical Association, 2015; Lifestyle Changes for Heart Failure, leaving site icon  American Heart Association, 2017; Pneumonia Can increase Danger to the Heart, leaving site icon  Samaritan Health Services, 2020.
Important Plan Information 

Originally published 12/19/2018; Revised 2021; Reviewed 2022