Flu shots: Especially important if you have heart disease
Medically reviewed on January 8, 2018.
If you have heart disease, flu season can be a dangerous time. Complications from influenza (flu) are more likely in people with heart disease. Fortunately, getting a flu shot can reduce your risk of catching the flu or developing complications from the flu.
While doctors have long recommended that older adults and other high-risk groups get flu shots, they're now emphasizing the importance of flu shots for those with heart disease too.
Why are flu shots important for those with heart disease?
If you have heart disease, you're at increased risk of complications from the flu — including pneumonia, respiratory failure, heart attack and death. Having the flu can also worsen pre-existing conditions, such as heart failure, diabetes or asthma.
Even if you get the flu despite having a flu shot, you'll probably have a less severe case of the flu. If you have heart disease, some research suggests that getting a flu shot might even lower your risk of a heart attack or other cardiovascular event, or death from a cardiovascular event. More research is needed to confirm this benefit, however.
It's also a good idea to get a flu shot if you live with or care for someone who has heart disease. Lowering your risk of getting the flu will lower the risk of those around you.
Is it safe to get a flu shot if I have heart disease?
Flu shots are safe for most people who have heart disease.
Flu vaccines are usually injected by needle into the upper extremity. Some people develop short-lived side effects, such as mild arm soreness at the injection site, a mild fever or muscle aches.
The flu vaccine that can be given as a nasal spray (FluMist) isn't recommended for people with heart disease. This type of flu vaccine is made with live virus that can trigger flu symptoms in some people.
Talk to your doctor before getting a flu shot if:
- You're allergic to eggs
- 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're sick with a fever at the time you plan to get a flu shot
When should I get a flu shot?
If you have heart disease, get the flu shot each fall when it becomes available, usually sometime in August through November. However, if flu shots are still available and you haven't yet received a vaccination, you can still benefit from getting a flu shot in January or later. That's because the flu season doesn't usually peak until the winter.
Do I have to get a flu shot from my cardiologist?
You don't have to get your flu shot from your cardiologist. The flu shot is also available through primary care doctors, some specialists, 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.