September 01, 2016

Is it safe to get a flu shot after having heart trouble?

Q: I had some heart trouble earlier this year, and I'm wondering if it's safe to get a flu shot this fall?

A: In most cases, the answer is yes. Unless you have a specific reason for not getting a flu (influenza) shot — such as an allergy — the flu shot is very safe, even if you have heart disease.

In fact, the toll that the flu can take on older adults in general and on those with heart disease is severe and the flu vaccine would be strongly recommended. About 50 to 70 percent of flu-related hospitalizations — and about 90 percent of flu-related deaths — occur in adults 65 and older. In addition, about half the adults hospitalized last winter with the flu also had heart disease.

Getting the flu is a known risk factor for having cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke, which sometimes cause death. The flu can also worsen heart failure or other conditions that can stress the cardiovascular system, such as diabetes or asthma.

It's not entirely clear how the flu triggers cardiovascular problems. The flu may make artery-clogging plaques more unstable and vulnerable to rupture, it may lower oxygen levels and make the heart work harder, it may directly injure heart cells, or it may simply put too much stress on a more frail body.

The flu shot reduces the risk of getting the flu. Even if you get the flu after receiving a flu shot, you'll probably have a less severe case of the flu.

A recent review of research suggests that getting the flu vaccine may reduce the risk of a heart...