If you have heart disease, flu season can be a dangerous time. Complications from the flu (influenza) are more likely in people with heart disease. Fortunately, getting a flu shot can reduce your risk of catching the flu or developing complications from the flu.
Doctors have long recommended flu shots for older adults and other high-risk groups — that also includes those with heart disease.
If you have heart disease, you're more likely to develop complications from the flu — including pneumonia, respiratory failure, heart attack and death. Having the flu can also make heart failure, diabetes, asthma or other pre-existing conditions worse.
If you have heart disease, research suggests that getting a flu shot might lower your risk of having a heart attack or stroke or dying of a cardiovascular event. However, more studies are needed to confirm these findings. Research is also underway to determine if high-dose flu shots offer even greater benefit.
If you live with or care for someone who has heart disease, it's a good idea to make sure you get a flu shot. Getting one helps lower the risk of infection for yourself and those around you.
Flu shots are safe for most people who have heart disease.
However, the nasal spray flu vaccine (FluMist) isn't recommended for people with heart disease. Unlike the flu shot, the nasal spray flu vaccine is made with a live virus. More research is needed to determine its safety in people with heart disease.
Flu vaccines are usually injected by needle into the upper arm. Some people develop temporary side effects, such as mild soreness at the injection site, muscle aches or a mild fever.
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 have a fever when you go to get a flu shot
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting a flu shot every year by the end of October. However, if flu shots aren't yet available or you haven't received yours yet, you can still get a flu shot until January or sometimes later. Flu season doesn't usually peak until the winter.
You don't have to get your flu shot from your cardiologist. The flu shot is also available through primary care doctors, public health departments and some pharmacies. It's best to call ahead to determine if the flu vaccine is available and if you need an appointment.