If you have heart disease or have suffered a stroke, the flu can be serious. That's because you are more likely to develop flu-related complications. Getting a flu shot every year is the best way to protect yourself from the flu.
If you've ever had influenza—commonly known as the flu—you know it can hit fast and leave you feeling miserable, achy and barely able to get out of bed. For most of us, the flu is a big nuisance, making us miss work and put plans on hold.
But if you have heart disease or have suffered a stroke, the flu can be much more serious. That’s because you are more likely to develop flu-related complications, including sinus and ear infections, pneumonia, or heart attack. More rarely, you could also develop inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis) or the protective sac around the heart (pericarditis).
In fact, many people with heart disease and other chronic health conditions die from the flu each year. Infections like the flu or pneumonia can place added strain on the heart and other organs. But getting vaccinated against the flu can prevent many of these deaths.
Getting a flu shot every year is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from the flu. It can help keep you from getting sick and suffering related complications.
Did You Know? Compared with
people who don’t have heart disease, those who do:
–Have a 10X higher risk of heart attack within 3 days of getting the flu
–Are more likely to have a heart attack even weeks after the flu
Source: National Foundation for Infection Diseases
Each year, the flu strikes up to 1 out of 5 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The infection, which spreads easily through tiny droplets in the air when someone coughs or sneezes, sends more than 200,000 people on average to the hospital for flu-related complications yearly.
Getting a flu shot is your best protection. According to the CDC, during the 2017 flu season, vaccination prevented:
Just like eating heart-healthy foods, exercising regularly and following up with routine health visits can help protect your heart health, so can rolling up your sleeve and getting a flu shot each year.
Get Your Flu Shot
Be sure to get a flu shot this season, ideally before people start getting the flu in your area. Check out the weekly flu activity in your state.
If you have heart disease, you’re more likely to become seriously ill from the flu or other respiratory infections—those that affect your nose, throat or lungs.
Complications from the flu include:
Having the flu can place added stress on the body and the heart. It can quicken your heart rate, raise your body temperature and ramp up your body’s fight or flight response, all of which can make heart attack more likely. As well, your body has
more inflammation when fighting infection; this may cause plaque that lines the blood vessel to rupture.
It’s important to remember that complications from the flu can occur even when conditions such as heart disease or diabetes are well controlled. That’s why experts urge that everyone 6 months of age and older get a flu shot each year.
If you need more convincing, the flu vaccine carries more heart benefits, too. Annual flu shots are:
Another plus? When you get vaccinated, you don’t just protect yourself. You are also be doing your part to help protect other people around you from the flu.
How Does the Vaccine Work?
Flu viruses change from year to year. Labs make a new vaccine to match the three-to-four strains, or types, of flu viruses that researchers predict will be the most common for the upcoming season. That’s why you need to get a flu shot every year.
Once you’ve been vaccinated, your body will develop antibodies to help you fight off the strains of the virus that the vaccine targets. It takes about two weeks for you to become protected.
A health care professional will give you the vaccine. It is most often given as a shot, or injection, into the muscle in your upper arm. There also is a nasal flu vaccine that is sprayed into your nose. Unlike the flu shot, the nasal flu vaccine contains live, but weakened virus, and may not be a good option for people with heart disease or other conditions.
If you are older than 65, you can get a flu shot that guards against four strains of flu or one that guards against three strains of flu.
Ask your doctor about which one is best for you and your condition.
Many primary care and cardiology offices start offering flu vaccines, which are often covered by health insurance, as early as September.
Start by calling your doctor’s office. Many medical offices receive early shipments of flu vaccine for people who are more prone to serious illness, including pregnant women and people with cardiovascular, diabetes and other health conditions to
help assure you’re protected.
You may also be able to get a flu shot at:
To find a place near you to get a vaccine, you can visit VaccineFinder.org.
When to Get a Flu Shot
If you have heart disease—or any other health conditions that affect your body’s ability to fight off infection—it’s best to get a flu shot early on, ideally by the end of October. This way, you’ll be protected at the start
of the flu season.
The flu season usually begins in October and peaks sometime between December and mid-February. But flu activity can occur into April and even May. So even when winter rolls around, or the flu season has kicked into high gear, it’s not too late to get a flu shot and protect yourself and those around you.
If you think you have the flu, it’s important to:
Antiviral medications are available with a prescription. These medicines can make the illness milder, shorten the length of time you’re sick and may help guard against flu-related complications. But these medicines work best when they are started
within 48 hours of noticing symptoms.
Your health professional is in the best position to decide whether an antiviral is right for you and any other members of your household.
Remember that people with the flu are most contagious, or able to spread the infection to others, in the first three-to-four days after their illness starts, according to the CDC.
Unlike the common cold, the flu comes on suddenly. People who have the flu usually experience some or all these symptoms:
Some people may have vomiting or diarrhea, but these are more likely in children than adults.
Other Ways to Stay Healthy
Don’t forget other simple steps to help prevent the flu and other contagious illnesses:
Stay Up-To-Date With Other Vaccines
Vaccines help keep us healthy and can save lives.
In addition to the flu vaccine, ask your care team whether you need to get vaccinated against:
You may also need additional vaccinations depending on your age. Be sure to write down what vaccines you get, including when and where you received them, and keep this information with your updated medication list.
Questions to Ask Your Health Care Team