A 45-year-old man had a heart attack after being stung by a wasp, a medical case report has revealed. The unnamed patient, believed to be from Blackpool, had a severe allergic reaction to the insect’s venom – called Kounis syndrome.
This, dubbed an allergy-induced heart attack, is a lesser-known reaction than anaphylaxis – which kills six people each year in the UK.
Within moments, he began to feel light headed and itchy all over his body. A red rash erupted minutes later.
Some 10 minutes later, the patient began to develop a ‘funny feeling’ in his left hand. He described it as heavy with a dull ache. The pain travelled up his arm.
Within three hours his condition worsened. At home three hours later, the man began to have the cold sweats and shake. He also complained of being weak and lethargic.
WHAT IS KOUNIS SYNDROME?
Unlike usual allergic reactions, Kounis syndrome can take up to two weeks to manifest itself, as plaques may not rupture straight away. The body’s normal response to a sting is to release histamine, a chemical to counteract the toxin. But with Kounis syndrome, larger amounts of histamine than normal are released in some people. Instead of affecting the airways, this makes the blood vessels relax and then contract, sometimes sending them into spasm.
In younger, healthier people, this would not normally be felt or pose a risk.
However, in older people who often have a build-up of plaques in the artery walls, these contractions cause the plaques to burst. This can cause blood clots, blockages and heart attacks. Although bee stings can also have this effect, wasp venom is more potent and more likely to spark Kounis syndrome.
During the trip to Blackpool Victoria Hospital, the patient became unconscious and suffered a heart attack. Paramedics revived him.
It is likely that his heart attack was triggered by plaque in his artery bursting, which blocked blood flow going to the organ – the known cause of a heart attack. Poor heart health.
Doctors were initially concerned that the heart attack was caused by the man’s poor cardiovascular health, after discovering he had smoked since he was a teenager.
Tobacco is known to damage the lining of arteries, causing a build-up of fatty deposits that restrict blood flow. Experts warn smoking significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Medical scans also showed a build-up of plaque in his artery, a sign of coronary heart disease which can also lead to heart attacks.
How was he treated?
His artery was repaired using a stent, and he was given allergy shots of wasp venom to prevent such a reaction from striking again. Following treatment, doctors also advised him to get an EpiPen in case he was ever stung by a wasp and suffered a similar reaction again. Writing in the journal, medics suggested that this wasn’t the first time the man had been stung by a wasp.