Why flu shots are particularly vital if you have heart disease

Why does it matter if you have heart disease and your doctor has advised you to get a flu shot?  You may wonder what the flu has to do with heart disease anyway.

Some people view having the flu (influenza) as not much different than having a cold. They may fail to see the advantage of being protected against influenza and believe it will go away within a few days, just like a common cold. However, influenza is not the same thing as a common cold. Flu symptoms are usually more severe and can include a high fever, a hacking cough, noticeable body aches, and extreme fatigue. These acute symptoms and heart disease can worsen and escalate into dangerous flu complications if you forego your yearly flu shot. 

Why is the flu is more dangerous for those with heart disease?

Influenza is a highly contagious viral infection. It affects the nose, throat, and lungs, areas of the body that can directly impact someone with heart disease. That’s because having heart disease puts you at risk of developing life-threatening complications that include the following:

  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Lung failure
  • Heart attack
  • Death

Generally, flu cases do not lead to pneumonia, but it’ll be more dangerous and deadly if it does. In addition, if you have heart disease along with heart failure, diabetes, asthma, or any other preexisting condition, having the flu will also worsen these conditions. 

The flu can directly and severely affect your lungs, causing blood oxygen levels to drop to dangerously low levels. 

The U.S. death rate from the flu is higher than the number of people who die in auto accidents each year. Between 2010 to 2020, hospitalizations for the flu were between 140,000 and 710,000, and between 12,000 and 52,000 died as a result of this virus. When compared to flu deaths, about 40,000 people in the U.S. die in auto accidents. 

The effect of flu on your heart

The adverse effects of this virus on the heart are related to the narrowing of arteries known as atherosclerosis, characterized by the deposit of plaque and fatty material along the inner walls of the arteries. As major arteries become clogged and narrowed, making the heart work harder to push blood flow through, less oxygen reaches the heart muscle. Then if you have the flu, this affects the lungs by lowering the amount of oxygen in the blood, further restricting oxygen to the heart. This scenario is the perfect set-up for you to have a heart attack or cardiac arrest (sudden death).

Studies have shown that people with heart disease and who contract influenza have almost a 12% increased risk of a serious cardiac event, during or several weeks after having the flu.

But, to reduce the risk of severe complications or even death if you have heart disease and get the flu, getting a flu shot will significantly enhance your ability to fight influenza successfully.  For example, a 2022 study published by JAMA Network Open reviewed randomized trials of more than 9,000 people and found that the flu shot reduced the risk of a heart attack or other cardiac events by 34%. 

In conclusion

The best advice for anyone of any age with heart disease, people age 60 or older, smokers, or anyone with high blood pressure or diabetes, is to play it safe. Get your flu shot soon after they become available each fall. Taking the risk of not getting a flu shot and you’ll be making a far riskier decision in regards to your health. So don’t take that risk; instead, get your flu shot.


Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy.  Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911. 

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