flu shot heart

A flu shot may protect your heart, says Gill Director Dr. Susan Smyth

Dr. Susan Smyth

Dr. Susan Smyth

Written by Dr. Susan Smyth, the medical director of the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute.

Flu season is here, which means it’s time to get your flu shot.

It’s common knowledge that the flu vaccine prevents the misery of influenza and helps protect vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, young children and the chronically ill.

But did you know that getting a flu shot might also prevent a heart attack or stroke?

The flu can be dangerous, even deadly

Influenza, or the flu, is a highly contagious respiratory viral infection easily spread from person to person when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. Flu can cause high – sometimes dangerous – fevers as well as chills, sore throat, cough, congestion, muscle or body aches, and headaches. Some people, commonly children, may also have vomiting and diarrhea.

And flu can be dangerous: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 49,000 flu-related deaths occur each year.

How a flu shot might help those with heart problems

While anyone can have complications from the flu, people with cardiovascular problems are at higher risk to develop them, which can lead to respiratory failure, pneumonia, heart attack and/or stroke, and can also worsen pre-existing conditions like heart failure, diabetes or lung disease, including asthma.

A study published in the prestigious medical journal JAMA found that getting a flu vaccine reduced the risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure or other major cardiac events – including death – by about a third over the following year.

It’s possible, although not yet proven, that flu increases the risk of a clot forming in blood vessels and/or that flu virus can provoke inflammatory changes in the blood vessels that contribute to heart attacks.

Help prevent the spread of flu

The best way to prevent influenza is to get vaccinated every year. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine every fall. While most people have no side effects from the vaccine, some people might develop a mild fever, muscle aches or mild arm soreness.

Although some people claim that the flu vaccine actually causes the flu, this is simply not true.

Everyday preventive actions, such as avoiding close contact with infected people, covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and frequent handwashing are also recommended to help reduce the spread of germs that cause the flu.

It is important to remember that the more people who get vaccinated against the flu, the fewer people who are likely to have it. By lowering your own risk you are also lowering the risk for those around us – your children, your grandchildren, your coworkers and friends.

And finally, if you have a higher risk for heart attack or stroke, talk to your doctor about whether a flu vaccine is a wise choice for additional, potentially life-saving protection.


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