Pneumonia - or is it really a Heart Problem?
I had a friend who I talked with now and then over the phone. He was a biochemist who had a really interesting job formulating nutritional products. Every now and then he would pause to clear his throat. It was only occasional and it was hardly unusual, especially when considering that he was asthmatic. During our last call, he was clearing his throat more often than usual. I meant to ask him about this but I never got around to it. A few weeks later he dropped dead from a massive heart attack. I have felt a little guilty about my inaction ever since.
I'm far from being an expert on cardiology, but I'll do my best to explain what might have been going on.
I think my friend might have had what is known as a silent heart attack. The term is self-explanatory - a heart attack that is not noticed. It might have been dismissed as an episode of fatigue due to work stress, a chest strain after a workout, indigestion or a chest infection.
The great running coach, Arthur Lydiard, died from a slow-burning heart attack that he thought was indigestion following a meal at a Mexican restaurant. Even though he was being hosted by a doctor at the time, the possibility that he was having a heart attack was overlooked.
If the heart is not pumping blood efficiently through the lungs there can be a slight buildup of fluid which can lead to a persistent cough. The fluid that may build is the perfect Petri Dish for microbes and this can lead to a full-blown infection of the lungs, otherwise known as pneumonia. It is not difficult to imagine what may happen to a person if they get a dose of influenza or COVID19. The infection will go gangbusters within the lungs!
This can happen in apparently healthy and very athletic men and women. The lung infection may be treated while the underlying cause, heart dysfunction, may be overlooked. It may depend on who is treating the condition, even coming down to whether the attending physician is a cardiologist or a respiratory specialist. And who would ever stop to think that the fit marathon runner with a persistent cough or even pneumonia might have a heart problem!
The lungs may be treated with antibiotics and steroids and the remaining persistent cough managed with asthma medication and life may return to normal, although the person may complain of feeling more tired than before and not quite having the athletic grunt of the good old days.
If anything of what I'm writing about even slightly rings a bell for you, my advice is to consult your doctor.
For further reading
Sudden cardiac death among older athletes
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