Flu shots: Especially important if you have heart disease

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Flu shots: Especially important if you have heart disease

If you have heart disease, flu season can be a dangerous time. Death from influenza (flu) is more common among people with heart disease than among people with any other chronic condition. Fortunately, getting a flu shot can reduce your risk of catching the flu or developing complications from the flu.

Doctors have long recommended that older adults and other high-risk groups get flu shots, but they now emphasize the importance of flu shots for those with heart disease. The flu shot could prevent thousands of flu-related complications and deaths every year in people who have heart disease.

Why are flu shots important for those with heart disease?

Flu seasons vary from year to year in length and severity. For this and other reasons, it's not possible to know how many flu-related deaths occur. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates a range of flu-related deaths in the thousands annually in the United States. The rate of flu-related complications is even higher among people with heart disease.

If you have heart disease, you're at increased risk of complications from the flu — including pneumonia, respiratory failure, heart attack and death. Having the flu can also cause dehydration and worsen pre-existing conditions, such as heart failure, diabetes or asthma.

It's a good idea to get a flu shot if you live with or care for someone who has heart disease. Lowering your risk of getting the flu will lower the risk of those around you.

Even if you get the flu despite having a flu shot, you'll probably have a less severe case of the flu. Getting a flu shot might even lower your risk of a heart attack if you have heart disease.

Is it safe to get a flu shot if I have heart disease?

Flu shots are safe for most people who have heart disease. Get your flu vaccine injected by needle, which is usually done in the arm. Some people develop mild arm soreness at the injection site, a low-grade fever (about 99 to 100 F, or 37 to 38 C) or muscle aches. These side effects usually go away within a day or two.

The flu vaccine that is given by nasal spray (FluMist) isn't recommended for people with heart disease because it's made with live virus that can trigger flu symptoms in people with heart disease.

Talk to your doctor before getting a flu shot if:

  • You're allergic to eggs
  • You've had a serious allergic reaction to the flu vaccine in the past
  • You have a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome that developed after receiving a flu shot
  • You're sick with a fever at the time you plan to get a flu shot

When should I get a flu shot?

If you have heart disease, get the flu shot each fall when it becomes available, usually late September through November. However, if flu shots are still available and you haven't yet received a vaccination, you'd still benefit from getting a flu shot in January or later. That's because the flu season doesn't typically peak until January, February or March.

Do I have to get a flu shot from my cardiologist?

You don't have to get your flu shot from your cardiologist. The flu shot is also available through primary care doctors, some specialists, public health departments and some pharmacies. It's best to call ahead to determine if vaccine is available and when. Some places may require an appointment.

Last Updated: 2013-01-19
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