Why getting a flu shot is important for heart health

With a few exceptions, health experts recommend everyone from 6-month-old babies to adults in their 60s and beyond to get a flu shot every fall. Vaccination can help prevent or reduce the severity of the disease by reducing the chance of serious complications, such as hospitalization, respiratory failure, pneumonia, or heart attack.

Advice for an annual flu shot is especially vital for anyone at high risk for cardiovascular problems. “This includes people over the age of 65, as well as those with a history of heart disease, stroke, or risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as smoking and diabetes,” says Eduardo Sanchez, MD, MPH, chief medical officer for prevention. for the American Heart Association.

Even so, people in this high-risk group often skip the annual flu shot. If this is the case, it is important to understand how the flu shot can protect your health. It might even save your life.

Why getting a flu shot is important for heart health

Research has found that after being diagnosed with the flu, a person is six times more likely to have a heart attack (when blood flow to the heart is blocked) in the following week. According to the Cleveland Clinic, heart health is particularly vulnerable during the flu due to a cascade of events caused by the inflammation caused by the infection.

Inflammation increases blood pressure, which stresses the heart. Under this stress, plaque, a waxy substance that builds up in the arteries, becomes weak and can break off, forming clots that can block arteries and lead to a heart attack.

There is evidence that getting vaccinated can help reduce the risk of heart problems from the flu. For example, in July 2020, research presented at an American Heart Association conference revealed that getting a flu shot reduces the risk of heart complications from influenza, including heart attack, cardiac arrest (when the heart suddenly stops beating ), transient ischemic stroke (TIA), and even death.

Similarly, a meta-analysis published in 2022 in Open JAMA network found that the benefits of the flu shot were especially great for people who had recently had a heart attack, reducing the risk of a second heart-related event by 45%.

Getting the most out of a flu shot

Flu vaccines are considered safe for almost everyone, including people with heart disease. Some things to keep in mind when planning to get your vaccine:

Timing is everything. The flu season begins to prepare in the fall and peaks between December and February. It takes a couple of weeks after vaccination for immunity to settle, so it’s ideal to get a flu shot before then. An easy way to think about it, says Dr. Sanchez, is to make Halloween, October 31st, your deadline.

Better late than never. Even if you miss that deadline, still take a chance. The flu season can last until late spring, so getting vaccinated in November or even later can help protect you from the virus. In fact, Sanchez says, if you happened to have the flu early in the season, it’s not too late to get vaccinated to prevent a second bout of flu.

Make sure you are in good health. “A runny nose or sore throat shouldn’t stop you from getting a flu shot,” says Sanchez. However, if you have a fever it’s best to wait, as a high temperature means your immune system is focused on fighting an infection, according to the Cleveland Clinic. And if you’ve tested positive for COVID-19, you should wait until the quarantine period is over and severe symptoms pass, adds Sanchez.

Be choosy if possible. All flu vaccines are approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration, even those offered at your local supermarket pharmacy or pop-up vaccination clinic, which means they are safe and effective. However, as older adults are at increased risk of serious flu complications, including those related to the heart, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that during the 2022-2023 flu season, people aged 65 and over should receive a high-dose flu vaccine (there is only one on the market) or an adjuvant, which has added ingredients to help boost the immune response. If neither is available, get the flu shot – it will still provide plenty of protection.

Stay up to date on other vaccines. If you haven’t vaccinated against COVID-19 or need a booster, it’s absolutely fine to roll up both sleeves at the same time as a flu shot. Check with your doctor to find out if a pneumococcal vaccine is also provided. Pneumonia is a common complication of the flu.

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