Nearly half of Americans have heart disease and are at increased risk of stroke. Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death. Many adults take low-dose aspirin with the hope of preventing a heart attack or stroke.
Some have asked whether there are other preventative measures they should take, especially knowing that heart disease risk increases with age. They’re surprised to hear there’s a vaccine that prevents heart attacks and strokes that has been available for years.
It turns out that the flu greatly increases the risk of heart attack. Researchers tested nearly 150,000 people with respiratory illnesses and found that those with the flu were six times more likely to have a heart attack during the week they were diagnosed.
The connection has become clear. Infections trigger an inflammatory response that helps fight the illness but can cause other problems. For example, platelets become stickier and form clots that block blood flow. Blocking blood flow to the heart or brain causes a heart attack or stroke.
The flu also can lead to a bacterial pneumonia by damaging the lung. Pneumonia puts additional strain on the body, especially the heart, which worsens any preexisting heart disease.
The flu vaccine, by decreasing the risk and severity of illness along with the chance of developing pneumonia, leads to 30 percent reduction in the risk of heart attacks. Vaccination is on par or better than commonly known preventive measures, such as cholesterol-lowering medications, 36 percent reduction, blood-pressure medications, 15 to 18 percent reduction, and smoking cessation, 26 percent reduction. The flu vaccine is even more beneficial in older adults. The flu vaccine designed for seniors reduces hospitalizations for heart attacks and strokes by 90 percent.
As an aside, anyone considering starting low-dose aspirin should discuss it with their health care professional as the recommendations have recently changed, taking certain risk factors and age into account.
If you want to decrease your chance of a heart attack or stroke, get plenty of sleep, exercise, eat a balanced diet, avoid smoking and get your annual flu vaccine. ‘Tis the season for flu vaccination.