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Do You Have Heart Disease Get a Flu Shot

January 26, 2022

It’s that time of year: flu season. Anyone can get the flu, a highly contagious respiratory illness. While most people recover from the flu within a week or two, people with cardiovascular disease have an increased risk of developing serious health complications from the flu.

If you have heart disease, getting your annual flu shot is the best way to protect yourself from potential complications.

When Should You Get a Shot?

You can get the flu at any time of year, but most cases of the flu occur during what is called “flu season,” when these viruses are at their most prevalent and contagious. In the United States, flu season generally begins in October, peaks between December through February, and ends in May.

If you have heart disease, it’s best to get your flu shot in September or October, before influenza viruses begin to spread more rapidly in your community. Sometimes the annual flu vaccine is released to the public even earlier than that. 

Getting your flu shot early gives your body the chance to develop antibodies from the vaccine, protecting against the flu and preventing potential health complications. But even if you miss the recommended time frame from September to October, you can still benefit from getting the flu shot in later months.  

Heart Disease Makes Flu More Risky

If you have heart disease, you are more likely to develop flu-related health complications, including:

  • Bronchitis

  • Heart attack

  • Heart failure

  • Pneumonia

  • Stroke

Research shows that nearly half of all adults hospitalized for the flu have heart disease. A recent study found that 1 in 8 patients hospitalized with the flu experienced serious heart complications, including blood clots, high blood pressure and heart damage.

Having a viral infection like the flu means your body — including your heart — must work harder to help you get better. The added stress can weaken the cardiovascular system. Having the flu is associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and stroke. The risk of having a first heart attack is six times higher within a week after a flu infection.

Not All Flu Vaccines Are Created Equal

There are many types of flu vaccines available, but the most common form is the inactivated influenza vaccine. Administered as an injection with a needle into the arm, these shots protect against four strains of the influenza virus most likely to be circulating each year. This form of the vaccine is approved for adults and children starting at 6 months old.

Another common type of flu vaccine is the live attenuated influenza vaccine. Administered as a nasal spray, this vaccine contains a small amount of the live flu virus and is approved for use in healthy individuals between the ages of 2 and 49.

The nasal spray flu vaccine is not recommended for people with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, or who are 65 and older.

Talk with your healthcare provider about which flu vaccine is right for you. They will make a recommendation based on your age, medical history and current health status.

Flu Prevention Tips  

In addition to getting vaccinated, taking other preventative measures can help protect against the flu, including:

  • Avoid touching your face. Touching a surface contaminated with germs and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth increases the risk of getting sick.

  • Cover your nose and mouth. Wearing a facial covering when you leave home can help protect against the flu and other airborne viruses and bacteria.

  • Eat healthy foods. A balanced diet rich in nutrients supports your immune system and overall health.

  • Exercise. Regular physical activity boosts your immune system, helps maintain a healthy weight and is good for heart health.

  • Wash your hands frequently. Thoroughly wash with soap and water after leaving your home, touching contaminated surfaces or coming into close contact with others.

Flu prevention is the best defense for your heart, and getting your annual flu shot can prevent serious health complications and may save your life.

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