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December 2020

A Surprising Way to Boost Heart Health: Get a Flu Shot

Health experts advise almost everyone get an annual flu shot. But if you’re wavering, here’s another fact to consider: Doing so may protect your heart.

In a large national study, researchers found 12% of people hospitalized with flu had a major, sudden heart problem. These included infections, acute heart failure, and dangerous blood pressure changes.

Flu and heart problems: A two-way street

The new study adds to the evidence that flu poses a peril to this vital organ. Doctors have already found the flu:

  1. Increases the risk of death from any cause, including heart issues.

  2. Is often followed by heart attacks, stroke, and other sudden problems. In fact, one study showed the risk for a heart attack was 6 times higher within a week of having the flu.

  3. Seems to be worse in people with existing cardiovascular conditions. In a recent flu season, about half of the people who were hospitalized with the flu had heart disease.

Often, the virus attacks the heart muscle and blood vessels directly. In other cases, getting sick with the flu causes other heart-related complications. Your blood may clot, your veins and arteries constrict, and your heart may have to work harder. This can worsen existing issues or cause new ones.

Why, and when, to get vaccinated

For all these reasons, health experts stress the importance of a flu shot for people with heart problems. But what if you’re perfectly healthy—do you still need to get vaccinated?

Absolutely: Getting the shot may reduce your risk of having a serious heart event by more than one-third. And it’s even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic. You’ll be a healthcare hero, saving resources that are already strained.

You need a shot this year even if you got one last year. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises getting immunized by the end of October, flu season stretches into the winter months. That means even if you wait until January or later, you’ll still get some protection.


Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2020
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.