Complications from the flu lead to thousands of hospitalizations and deaths each year. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older.
For people with heart disease or other cardiovascular problems, getting a flu shot is even more important. Among adults hospitalized with the flu during the 2015-2016 influenza season, 41% had heart disease, according to the CDC. What’s the connection between influenza and cardiovascular problems?
Heart Disease and the Flu
People with heart disease or other chronic illnesses have compromised immune systems, putting them at a greater risk of developing flu-related complications such as pneumonia, respiratory failure and sinus infection.
Research also shows that the flu can increase a person’s chances of having a heart attack or stroke, especially those who already have heart disease. According to The Journal of the American Medical Association, getting a flu shot lowers your odds of a having heart attack, stroke, heart failure or other potentially fatal cardiac event by about a third over the following year.
Why is the flu so hard on the heart? According to Harvard Health Publications, getting the flu requires your body to produce a huge immune response, causing inflammation. “As a result, the plaque inside your blood vessels can become unstable, which can lead to blockage and a possible heart attack or stroke,” the report stated. For people with heart disease, whose blood vessels might already be unstable or blocked, the flu can quickly become life threatening.
How to Protect Your Heart From the Flu
The CDC recommends that anyone who has heart disease or diabetes, or who has had a stroke, take special precautions to avoid getting the flu:
- Get a flu vaccine every year.
- Avoid close contact with anyone who might be sick.
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
If you have heart disease and you get the flu, call your doctor right away. He or she may want to prescribe antiviral medications that can help prevent serious complications. It’s also a good idea to get a flu vaccine if you live with or frequently spend time with someone who has heart disease.
Talk to your doctor about this and other flu shot benefits. Also, be sure to tell your doctor if you have an allergy to eggs or any of the ingredients in the flu vaccine, if you have ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome or if you’re sick with a fever on the day you’ve planned to get the shot.
Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also use tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the in the Member Wellness Center under the Managing Your Health tab.