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Flu vaccine may have previously unknown heart benefits

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Getting a flu shot might prevent heart attack, stroke and death.

If you’re thinking about skipping a flu shot this year you may want to think twice. Canadian researchers have found the flu vaccine could offer extra protection for the heart.

Flu vaccine could might prevent stroke

Taking the vaccine could also protect from stroke and other major events including heart attack and death.

According to the researchers, there was a 50% reduction in their risk of having a major cardiac event associated among people who take the flu shot that was compared to placebo. The risk reduction was found among people with and without heart disease. The Cali at St. Louis is thought

They also found a 40% reduction in deaths from any cause after one year follow-up.

Two Toronto based researchers presented studies at the 2012 Canadian Cardiovascular Congress that looked at studies of 3227 patients almost equally divided with and without known heart disease.

Dr. Jacob Udell, a cardiologist at Women's College Hospital and the University of Toronto, and his team from the TIMI Study Group and Network for Innovation in Clinical Research looked at clinical trials dating back to the 1990’s to find out if flu vaccine does more than prevent influenza infection.

Udell says more studies are needed to determine if the flu vaccine definitely cuts heart risks and can lower the chances of death from all causes.

If the findings are supported, it could boost acceptance of the flu vaccine that is often ignored, even by healthcare workers, as well as adults age 18 to 64 with chronic medical conditions who are at high risk for complications from the flu.

The use of the vaccine is still much too low, less than 50 per cent of the general population; it's even poorly used among health care workers," Udell says. "Imagine if this vaccine could also be a proven way to prevent heart disease."

How it might work

Researchers know inflammation from virus or bacteria can trigger other untoward health events.

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One possibility about how the vaccine is could protect the heart is because it keeps inflammation at bay that can trigger that heart attack. The goal of therapy for heart patients it to control inflammation inside the arteries with anti-cholesterol medicines, a heart healthy diet, aspirin and blood thinners.

The flu causes respiratory symptoms that can also decrease oxygen supply to major organs. Difficulty breathing can lead to high blood pressure that might make people at risk more susceptible to stroke, chest pain, heart rhythm disturbances and other heart related events.

Second study shows flu shot benefits to the heart

When a second study, researchers presented findings that people who get the flu shot and have implanted cardiac defibrillators (ICDs) experience fewer adverse events.

Cardiologists Drs. Ramanan Kumareswaran and Sheldon Singh from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre reviewed health charts of patients with ICDs before and during the flu season.

Internal cardiac defibrillators that are implanted under the skin detect irregular heartbeats and automatically deliver an electrical shock to restore normal rhythm to the heart. The devices are lifesaving but also cause some pain and distress for patients when they release a jolt of electricity.

"In addition to leading a heart healthy life, having an annual flu shot could be another easy way to help prevent cardiac events," Singh said.

The results showed there were more ‘shocks’ delivered to patients during a flu season who had not taken the vaccine, compared to those who didn't receive the vaccine.

You may want to consider the flu shot, especially if you’re at high risk from diabetes, heart disease, work in a Health Care setting or are in close contact with other people who are at high risk for developing flu complications.

The new studies support flu vaccine recommendations, suggesting the vaccine could provide protection for the heart, prevent stroke and reduce the risk of dying from any cause.

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
October 28, 2012

Image credit: CDC Health Image Library