Skip to main content
Alert icon
COVID-19 Resources Click here for details.

Have Heart Disease? You Need A Flu Shot

December 18, 2023
It is that time of year again…flu season. Each year, seasonal influenza accounts for more than 500,000 deaths globally and certain high-risk groups, such as those with heart disease, are disproportionately affected.


Heart Disease and the Flu: What You Need to Know

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), getting the flu increases your risk for cardiovascular complications due to the body’s natural inflammatory response. For those with heart disease, the flu can be more complicated and serious which is why getting a flu shot is even more important for this group. 

Influenza can cause your heart to pump harder and your blood pressure to increase. The added stress on your body can result in worsening symptoms of heart disease, weakening of the heart muscles, pneumonia or even respiratory failure. The stress the influenza infection puts on the body may increase the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. According to an AHA study, one in eight patients hospitalized with the flu will also have a cardiovascular complication as a result. About half of adults hospitalized for the flu have heart disease and the risk of having a first heart attack is six times greater following a flu infection.

Complications from Flu with Heart Disease

If you already have heart disease, the flu can pack an additional punch as you are more likely to develop flu-related complications, including sinus and ear infections, pneumonia, or a heart attack. In rare cases, you could develop inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis) or the protective sac around the heart (pericarditis). People with heart disease have a ten times higher risk of suffering a heart attack within three days of coming down with the flu. And for weeks after having the flu they are more likely to have a heart attack than people who do not have heart disease that have had the flu. 

While the research supports that the flu vaccine can help reduce the risk of cardiac morbidity and mortality, there is still a high proportion of people with heart problems who do not get vaccinated. Studies show that less than half of U.S. adults get the flu vaccine. One of the main reasons cited for forgoing the shot is fear of experiencing side effects. 

Flu Shots and Your Heart

A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association showed that some flu vaccine reactions, even minor ones, might be a positive sign for people with heart disease. The study showed that individuals with high-risk heart disease who experience mild to moderate side effects from the flu vaccination are less likely to be hospitalized for heart or lung problems or die from any cause. It also suggests that even mild vaccine-related issues, such as injection site pain, may be an indicator of a strong immune response and better overall health. 

The AHA study included 5,210 participants across the United States and Canada for whom adverse reaction data were available in the INVESTED (Influenza Vaccine to Effectively Stop Cardio Thoracic Events and Decompensated Heart Failure) trial. The study analyzed data for vaccinations given over three flu seasons. Participants were followed until the end of each flu season to see if there were any complications. The trial also included patients who had recently been hospitalized for heart failure or a heart attack. Deaths were recorded for up to three years following vaccination.

Overall, roughly 38% of participants experienced some type of side effect. Most were only mild reactions, with injection site pain being the most common (60.3%). Muscle aches and pains were next (34.5%) followed by overall discomfort (22%). Just 2.9% of adverse reactions were considered severe. Overall, those who experienced mild to moderate injection site reactions had a 19% lower risk of dying for any reason or of being hospitalized for heart or lung problems.

What You Can Do

Getting your annual influenza vaccine can lower your risk of a cardiovascular episode even if you catch a mild case of the flu. Research found that in high-risk patients over age 50, those vaccinated against the flu have a 28% lower chance of a heart attack and an 85% lower chance of cardiac arrest. 

The American Heart Association (AHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend annual flu vaccination for all people six months and older, including those with heart disease, with rare exceptions. However, the CDC does not recommend the live flu vaccine (also known as the nasal spray) for people with heart disease.

If you have not gotten your flu vaccine, West Tennessee Medical Group clinics are located throughout West Tennessee offering the vaccine. To find a location near you, click here.