Flu shot may aid heart bypass recovery

By American Heart Association News

Terry Vine/DigitalVision, Getty Images
(Terry Vine/DigitalVision, Getty Images)

Getting a flu shot before heart bypass surgery can head off inflammation throughout the body and possibly lead to a healthier recovery, a new study suggests.

Heart surgery has been associated with inflammation and altered immune function, said Dr. Fady Ebrahim, lead author of the preliminary study to be presented Sunday in Philadelphia at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions.

"This is related to the significant stress placed on the body during invasive procedures," said Ebrahim, an anesthesiology fellow at the University of Toronto in Ontario.

The study involved 30 heart bypass patients at a hospital in Sudbury, Ontario. Fifteen patients were vaccinated against influenza before surgery. The rest were given a placebo. The researchers then tested blood levels of various substances linked to inflammation at seven intervals, starting with the beginning of surgery and ending 48 hours after the operation

In people who received the flu shot, the levels of two chemicals that promote inflammation were lower than in those who received the placebo. Meanwhile, levels of a chemical that fights inflammation were higher among the vaccinated group. The difference lasted up to around 24 hours after the operation

Patients in the study underwent coronary bypass graft surgery, the most common heart surgery currently performed worldwide. More than 370,000 people  in the U.S. undergo the procedure each year.

The surgery can relieve chest pain known as angina and reduce the risk of heart attack. In the procedure, arteries or veins are taken from elsewhere in the body and used to reroute blood around a clogged vessel that feeds the heart . Patients might undergo one or several bypass grafts, depending on how many coronary arteries have blockages.

Doctors haven't yet found any reliable preventive treatments to reduce the rate and the severity of the body's inflammatory reaction to surgery, Ebrahim said. An elevated inflammatory reaction predisposes a patient to complications.

Though the new study involved only a small number of patients, the flu vaccine's impact on markers of inflammation was notable, said Dr. Jennifer Robinson , director of the Preventive Intervention Center at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.

"Vaccines work by revving up the body's infection-fighting machinery," Robinson said. In the new study, "the influenza vaccine had striking protective physiologic effects that could have important implications for reducing post-operative complications."

But more research is needed to replicate the findings, she said, and to see whether flu vaccination can shorten recovery times after surgery.

Also, "although not common, reducing the risk of post-operative heart attacks and strokes would have an important impact," Robinson said.

While the study showed the flu vaccination could affect inflammatory response shortly after surgery, the trial design did not allow researchers to assess how patients fared medically. Ebrahim said the new findings are a springboard for a larger multi-centered trial.

Find more news from Scientific Sessions.

If you have questions or comments about this story, please email [email protected].

American Heart Association News Stories

American Heart Association News covers heart disease, stroke and related health issues. Not all views expressed in American Heart Association News stories reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Statements, conclusions, accuracy and reliability of studies published in American Heart Association scientific journals or presented at American Heart Association scientific meetings are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect the American Heart Association’s official guidance, policies or positions.

Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. Permission is granted, at no cost and without need for further request, for individuals, media outlets, and non-commercial education and awareness efforts to link to, quote, excerpt from or reprint these stories in any medium as long as no text is altered and proper attribution is made to American Heart Association News.

Other uses, including educational products or services sold for profit, must comply with the American Heart Association’s Copyright Permission Guidelines. See full terms of use. These stories may not be used to promote or endorse a commercial product or service.

HEALTH CARE DISCLAIMER: This site and its services do not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to your health care provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 or call for emergency medical help immediately.