Flu shots: Especially important if you have heart disease

If you have heart disease, a flu shot can reduce your risk of dangerous flu complications. Learn the benefits of a flu shot and when to get one.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

The flu (influenza) is a contagious viral infection of the nose, throat and lungs (respiratory infection). If you have heart disease, it's important to take steps to protect yourself against the flu. Complications from the flu are more likely in people with heart disease.

You can reduce your risk of the flu and its complications by getting an annual flu vaccine. Although the flu vaccine isn't 100% effective, it's still your best defense against the flu. Doctors have long recommended the vaccine for older adults and other high-risk groups — which includes those with heart disease.

Why are flu shots important for those with heart disease?

If you have heart disease, you're more likely to develop complications from the flu. Complications from the flu include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • Lung failure
  • Heart attack
  • Death

Having the flu can also make heart failure, diabetes, asthma or other preexisting conditions worse.

Researchers continue to actively study the benefits and risks of yearly flu vaccines among people with heart disease, including heart failure. Some studies have suggested that flu vaccination lowers the risk of heart attack, stroke and death from a cardiovascular event in people who have heart disease. However, more studies are needed to confirm these findings.

Is the flu shot safe if I have heart disease?

Flu shots are safe for most people who have heart disease.

The nasal spray flu vaccine (FluMist) isn't recommended for people with heart disease or who are 65 years and older. Unlike the flu shot, the nasal spray flu vaccine is made with a live virus.

The flu shot is usually given as an injection in the upper arm. Some people develop temporary side effects, such as mild soreness at the injection site, muscle aches or a mild fever. You can't get the flu or coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) from a flu vaccine.

Check with your doctor before getting a flu shot if:

  • You have or think you have COVID-19
  • You've had a serious allergic reaction to the flu vaccine in the past
  • You have a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome that developed after receiving a flu shot
  • You have a fever when you go to get a flu shot

You can still get a flu shot if you're allergic to eggs.

When should I get a flu shot?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends yearly flu vaccination for everyone age 6 months or older. A high-dose flu vaccine is available for adults age 65 and older.

It's best to get your flu vaccine in September or October. However, if flu shots aren't yet available or you haven't received yours yet, you can still get a flu shot until January or sometimes later.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it's more important than ever to get a flu vaccine. Both COVID-19 and the flu may be spreading at the same time. The two infections can cause similar symptoms. A flu shot could reduce symptoms that might be confused with those caused by COVID-19. However, the flu vaccine does not prevent COVID-19.

If you live with or care for someone who has heart disease, it's a good idea to make sure you get a yearly flu vaccine, too. Getting one helps lower the risk of infection for yourself and those around you.

Do I have to get a flu shot from my cardiologist?

You don't have to get your flu shot from your heart doctor (cardiologist). The flu shot is also available through primary care doctors, public health departments and some pharmacies. It's best to call ahead to determine if the flu vaccine is available and if you need an appointment.

Oct. 16, 2020 See more In-depth

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