What to Know About the Flu if You Have Heart Disease or Have Had a Stroke

An article from the UVM Health Network 2019 Flu Education series

With Brianne Jeror, NP
University of Vermont Health Network
Alice Hyde Medical Center, Primary Care

Another flu season is right around the corner. A seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to protect against it and any potentially serious complications.

Immunity can take up to two weeks to develop after getting the vaccine, so getting your flu shot and helping to protect your friends, family and loved ones from seasonal influenza is everyone’s responsibility.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every year, with rare exceptions. But for some groups, seasonal influenza is particularly dangerous.

Heart disease and stroke

If you have heart disease or have experienced a stroke, you are among those at high risk for serious flu-related complications. According to the CDC, about half of the adults hospitalized with flu during the 2017-18 influenza season had heart disease. Studies have also shown that influenza is associated with increased risk of heart attacks and stroke.

The best way to protect yourself from these complications is by getting an injectable flu vaccination, which research has shown is associated with lower rates of some cardiac events among people with heart disease.

Those with heart disease should also keep up to date with pneumococcal vaccination to protect against diseases like pneumonia, meningitis and bloodstream infections. It’s important to speak with your Primary Care Provider to determine which vaccines are recommended for you.

Additional preparations and precautions during flu season include:

  • Maintaining a 2 week supply of your regular medications at home
  • Do not stop taking your regular medications without first consulting your Primary Care Provider, especially if you get the flu or another respiratory infection
  • People with heart failure should be alert to changes in their breathing and promptly report any changes to their Primary Care Provider.

Knowing when to seek emergency medical care is critical if you or your child have heart disease or have had a stroke. To learn more, refer to the CDC’s list of Emergency Warning Signs of Flu.

Be sure to contact your primary care provider to discuss which type of flu vaccination is right for you and learn more about how you can best protect yourself and those around you from seasonal influenza.