Vaccines and Heart Disease

Updated:Aug 28,2013

Vaccines and Heart DiseaseVaccines can reduce the risk of extra stress on the heart.

Vaccinations can be an important line of defense when it comes to avoiding many serious diseases. For heart disease and stroke patients, that’s particularly true when it comes to the flu or pneumonia.

“When you have any kind of chronic condition, such as cardiovascular disease, you don’t have the physiological reserves that healthy individuals have to fight an infection,” said Donna Arnett, chair and professor of epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Patients with heart disease, especially heart failure, may be more vulnerable to dangerous complications that can occur from getting the flu, said Dr. Arnett, who is also immediate past president of the American Heart Association.

“Research has shown us that you dramatically reduce your risk of death from pneumonia or flu with vaccination and that protection appears to occur year-round,” Dr. Arnett said. “It’s particularly important during the flu season.”
Influenza can lead to an infection of the heart muscle, an infection that can also increase your risk of heart attack. Arnett said.  She said while the reasons for the increased risk are not well understood, some studies have shown a correlation between the timing of the flu season and the increased rates of heart attack. 

Pneumonia is a lung infection that prevents your lungs from getting enough oxygen into the blood, creating a strain on the heart. It can also increase risks for stroke patients.

Dr. Arnett said the reasons are not well understood, but it could be due to an increased chance that plaque in the arteries could rupture, causing a blockage. It may also be due to an increased risk for irregular heart rhythms that may accompany a fever, or an increase in blood fats that can occur when you have an infection.

When should I get vaccinated?
Heart and stroke patients should be immunized against pneumonia unless they’ve experienced a bad reaction or allergy to the vaccine, Dr. Arnett said..  Re-vaccination should be discussed with your doctor and will , depend on the person’s age, the type of vaccine used,  and  prior vaccination history.

Getting an annual flu shot is also important for close friends and family of patients with heart disease or stroke. Because of the health risks that the flu poses to heart and stroke patients, it’s important to minimize the risk of getting exposed to others who may be sick, Dr. Arnett said.

The best time to get vaccinated for the flu is in September, just before the flu season begins. Even if flu season is already underway, it’s not too late to get immunized.  The vaccine takes full effect in two weeks and is beneficial all year.

Getting vaccinated doesn’t just protect you from disease, it can also protect the community from the risk of a larger outbreak, Dr. Arnett said.

“It’s herd immunity,” Dr. Arnett said. “By getting vaccinated and encouraging your friends and family to get vaccinated, you’re reducing your community’s overall risk of a flu epidemic.”

With all vaccinations, it’s important to consult your health care provider about how best to protect yourself from serious illness.

“Vaccines are an effective, safe way to prevent infectious diseases,” Dr. Arnett said. “There’s no reason, really, not to get vaccinated, unless someone has had a bad reaction.”

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