Flu and Heart Disease & Stroke

Heart disease-stethoscope and heart

People with heart disease and those who have had a stroke are at high risk for developing serious complications from flu. Among adults hospitalized with flu during the 2017-2018 influenza season, heart disease was among the most commonly-occurring chronic conditions; about half of adults hospitalized with flu during the 2017-2018 flu season had heart disease. Studies have shown that influenza is associated with an increase of heart attacks and stroke.

Vaccination is the Best Protection Against Flu

Flu vaccination is especially important for people with heart disease or who have had a stroke because they are at high risk for complications from flu. Vaccination has been associated with lower rates of some cardiac eventsExternal among people with heart disease, especially among those who had had a cardiac event in the past year. Flu vaccines are often updated each season to keep up with changing viruses, and immunity wanes over a year so annual vaccination is needed to ensure the best possible protection against influenza. A flu vaccine protects against the flu viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. (See Vaccine Virus Selection for this season’s exact vaccine composition.)

CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a seasonal flu vaccine each year by the end of October if possible.

Types of Flu Vaccines for People with Heart Disease

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
  • Flu shots are approved for use in people with heart disease and other health conditions. The flu shot has a long, established safety record in people with heart disease.
  • The live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) or the nasal spray vaccine, is recommended as an option for use in non-pregnant individuals, 2 through 49 years of age. There is a precaution against the use of nasal spray flu vaccine (LAIV) in people with certain underlying medical conditions, including heart disease.
  • Not only can a flu vaccine reduce your risk of getting sick with flu and reduce your risk of serious flu outcomes including being hospitalized or admitted to the intensive care unit, flu vaccination has been associated with lower rates of some cardiac events among people with heart disease. See “What are the benefits of flu vaccination?” for more information.

 Get pneumococcal vaccines.

  • People who have heart disease should also be up to date with pneumococcal vaccination to protect against pneumococcal disease, such as pneumonia, meningitis, and bloodstream infections. Talk to your doctor to find out which pneumococcal vaccines are recommended for you.
  • Pneumococcal pneumonia is an example of a serious flu-related complication that can cause death. You can get either Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine or Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine  (but not both) when you get the flu vaccine.

Other Preventive Actions for People with Heart Disease or who have had a Stroke

Don't wait, vaccinate!

In addition to getting the flu shot, people with heart disease or who have had a stroke should take additional everyday preventive actions, including covering coughs, washing hands often, and avoiding people who are sick.

Specific Health Actions for People with Heart Disease or who have had a Stroke

  • 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.

Symptoms and Treatment

If you get sick with flu symptoms call your doctor right away. There are antiviral drugs that can treat flu illness and prevent serious flu complications. CDC recommends prompt treatment for people who have influenza infection or suspected influenza infection and who are at high risk of serious flu complications, such as people with heart disease.

Symptoms

Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.

Treatment

  • Treatment should begin as soon as possible because antiviral drug treatment works best when started early (within 48 hours after symptoms start).
  • Antiviral drugs can make your flu illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious health problems that can result from flu illness.
  • There are three FDA-approved influenza antiviral drugs recommended by CDC this season that can be used to treat the flu. These medicines fight against the flu by keeping flu viruses from making more viruses in your body. A doctor needs to write a prescription for you to be treated with these antiviral drugs.

When to Seek Emergency Medical Care

If you or your child have heart disease or have had a stroke and experience any of the following emergency warning signs of flu sickness, seek medical attention right away!

Emergency Warning Signs of Flu

People experiencing these warning signs should obtain medical care right away.

In children

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish lips or face
  • Ribs pulling in with each breath
  • Chest pain
  • Severe muscle pain (child refuses to walk)
  • Dehydration (no urine for 8 hours, dry mouth, no tears when crying)
  • Not alert or interacting when awake
  • Seizures
  • Fever above 104°F
  • In children less than 12 weeks, any fever
  • Fever or cough that improve but then return or worsen
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions

In adults

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Persistent dizziness, confusion, inability to arouse
  • Seizures
  • Not urinating
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Severe weakness or unsteadiness
  • Fever or cough that improve but then return or worsen
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions

These lists are not all inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptom that is severe or concerning.