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Flu and Heart Disease & Stroke

People with Heart Disease* and Those Who Have Had a Stroke Are at Increased Risk of Complications from Influenza (the Flu)

People with heart disease and those who have had a stroke are at high risk for developing serious complications from the flu. Among adults hospitalized with the flu during the 2010-2011 influenza season, heart disease was the most commonly-occurring chronic condition; 37% of adults hospitalized with the flu during the 2010-2011 flu season had heart disease. Studies have shown that influenza is associated with an increase of heart attacks and stroke.

*Heart disease includes but is not limited to coronary artery disease [heart attack or myocardial infarction, acute coronary syndrome and angina (chest pain related to heart disease)]. It also includes the following common conditions:

  • Heart failure
  • Hypertensive heart disease
  • Pulmonary heart disease
  • Heart valve disorders
  • Arrhythmias including atrial fibrillation
  • Congenital heart defects
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If you have heart disease or have had a stroke, you need to take steps to fight the flu.

  • Get a flu shot.
    • Vaccination is the first and most important step in protecting against the flu. Even if you don’t have a regular doctor or nurse, you can get a flu shot.
    • Flu vaccines are offered in many locations including doctors’ offices, clinics, health departments, pharmacies, college health centers and increasingly by a number of employers and public schools.
    • People with heart disease or who have had a stroke should get a flu shot (the vaccine given with a needle, usually in the arm) and not use the nasal spray vaccine (“FluMist®”).
  • Take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of flu:
    • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and throw the tissue away after using it;
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing;
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth (germs are spread that way); and
    • Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care. If you are sick with flu-like symptoms you should stay home for 24 hours after your fever is gone (without the use of fever-reducing medicine).
  • If you do get sick with flu symptoms, call your doctor and take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.
    • Treatment should begin as soon as possible because antiviral drugs work best when started early (within 48 hours after symptoms start).
    • Antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious health problems that can result from the flu.
    • Oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) is an antiviral drug that can be used to treat the flu. To get Tamiflu®, a doctor must write you a prescription. This medicine fights against the flu by keeping flu viruses from making more viruses in your body.
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Take Other Important Steps to Stay Healthy

  • Get a pneumococcal vaccine.
    • Children, adults 65 years of age and older, and people who have heart disease should also get the pneumococcal vaccine to protect against pneumonia.
    • Pneumonia is an example of a serious flu-related complication that can cause death. Pneumococcal vaccines may be given at the same time as flu vaccines.
  • Maintain a two week supply of your regular medications during flu season.
  • Do not stop taking your regular medications without first consulting your doctor, especially in the event that you get the flu or another respiratory infection.
  • People with heart failure should be alert to changes in their breathing and should promptly report changes to their doctor.
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More Information


For Health Professionals

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