Research: Flu Shots Can Also Be Beneficial for Heart Health
It’s autumn: time to break out your sweaters, admire the foliage, carve a
pumpkin — and get a flu shot.
If you’ve ever had a bout with the flu, you know that it’s much more than
“just a bug.”
Influenza is a highly contagious viral disease that causes fever, cough,
sore throat, fatigue, and muscle and body aches, not to mention tens of
thousands of deaths per year.
As Dr. Tom Frieden, Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) described at a recent press conference, “Flu is serious,
flu is unpredictable.”
Vaccines are the best defense against this potentially dangerous virus —
and may have an important added benefit: In addition to keeping you safe
from influenza, a number of studies over the past several years have
demonstrated that flu shots may actually reduce a person’s risk of
suffering a heart attack or stroke.
Heart Conditions Pose Increased Risk for Flu Complications
Even healthy people can become very ill from the flu and spread it to
others. Most people recover from the flu within several days to two weeks.
But in vulnerable populations, the flu can lead to the development of
. These groups include pregnant women, young children, adults over 65 and
those with chronic medical conditions — including heart disease.
“Individuals with heart disease are at greater risk for developing
pneumonia, respiratory illness and heart attacks if they have had the flu,”
E. Wilson Grandin, MD, MPH
(right), who recently joined the
Division of Cardiovascular Medicine
in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s
. “The flu can also aggravate pre-existing conditions, such as asthma or
In people with pre-existing heart disease, an episode of the flu can easily
escalate to pneumonia, a lung infection that significantly strains the
heart, according to the
American Heart Association
show that 41 percent of adults hospitalized with the flu during last year’s
flu season had heart disease.
Vaccines Protect Against Flu — and Heart Attack
According to the CDC
, a yearly flu vaccine is the best way to avoid getting the flu, and most
people who receive the shot will have no side effects. For those who do,
the most common reaction is soreness and swelling at the injection site,
low-grade fever or achiness. In very rare instances, a more serious
reaction can occur, such as a severe allergic reaction.
Dr. Grandin says it’s important to get a yearly flu shot not only for
people with heart disease, but also for people who care for or live with
“By lowering their flu risk, caregivers and family members are also
lowering the risk for the people around them,” he says.
Studies Reveal Flu-Heart Connection
In an interesting development, a number of studies have found that in
addition to preventing a bout of the flu, flu shots can actually help some
people reduce the risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the first
published in the journal Heart, researchers reviewed 16 past
studies on heart health and the flu. Their analysis of these studies found
that the flu increased the risk of heart attack by 50 percent, while the
flu vaccine reduced heart attack risk by 29 percent.
Furthermore, the study suggests that the flu vaccine may reduce the risk of
heart attack in patients without known heart disease. Similar results were
published in a
in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“It may be that by protecting against the development of the flu, vaccines
prevent the increased heart rate and physiologic stress associated with
influenza infection, both of which could put patients at risk for stroke or
heart attack,” says Dr. Grandin.
Above content provided by the CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel
Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult