Getting your flu shot this year may do more than just protect you from a runny nose and sore throat. A study published earlier this year in the Journal for the American Medical Association suggests that flu vaccinations may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Dr. Charlie Lowenstein is the chief of cardiology at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) in western New York. He says no one really knows why the flu can be bad for your heart, but there are some strong theories suggesting it can be.
“Here’s our best guess. One is that when you get the flu, when you get infected, there’s inflammation that builds up not only in your lungs and your throat, but also in your whole body. And maybe that inflammation does something unusual to your blood vessels and causes your arteries to have bad reactions and have vulnerable plaques develop,” Lowenstein says.
“So there’s speculation that the flu, at a very low level, might be doing this, inflaming your blood vessels or actually predisposing them to form blood clots which can cause heart attacks or strokes.”
Lowenstein says the study from researchers in Toronto was a review of results from past trials involving more than 6,700 patients. It’s an increasingly popular method of collecting data called a meta-analysis.
He says more research needs to be done before the link can be proven, but it’s another reason people should get their shots.
“It shows pretty convincingly that people who get vaccinated against the flu have a lower rate of bad cardiovascular events like heart attack, stroke, or death.”
Lowenstein says only about a third of adults get their flu shots each year. It’s vital that that number rises, he says.
Authors of the study from the University of Toronto say a more detailed study to confirm their results is warranted.
If the flu vaccine is an effective preventative measure for heart disease, it would prove to be a low cost, easily administered and well tested alternative to reduce cardiovascular risk.