Flu & People with Heart Disease or History of Stroke

Heart disease

exclamation square light icon Getting a flu vaccine during 2020-2021 is more important than ever because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Flu vaccination is especially important for people with certain underlying medical conditions, like asthma, heart disease, and diabetes. People with these types of conditions are at higher risk of developing serious complications from flu. Many of these conditions also increase the risk for serious outcomes from COVID-19.

People with heart disease and those who have had a stroke are at higher risk for developing serious complications from flu. If you have heart disease, or have had a stroke, it is especially important that you get a flu vaccine every flu season to protect against flu and its potentially serious complications.

Among adults hospitalized with flu during recent flu seasons, heart disease was one of the most commonly-occurring chronic conditions—about half of adults hospitalized with flu that season had heart disease. Studies have shown that flu illness is associated with an increase of heart attacks and stroke. A 2018 studyexternal icon found that the risk of heart attack was 6 times higher within a week of confirmed flu infection. These findings were most pronounced for older adults and those experiencing their first heart attack. Additionally, a 2020 studyexternal icon that looked at more than 80,000 U.S. adults hospitalized with flu over eight flu seasons (2010-11 through 2017-18) found that sudden, serious heart complications were common and occurred in one out of every eight patients (~12% of patients).

Heart disease includes, but is not limited to, the following common conditions:

  • Heart failure
  • Hypertensive heart disease
  • Pulmonary heart disease
  • Heart valve disorders
  • Arrhythmias including atrial fibrillation
  • Congenital heart defects

Vaccination is the Best Protection Against Flu

Don't Wait, Vaccinate

Flu vaccination is especially important for people with heart disease or who have had a stroke because they are at higher risk for complications from flu. Vaccination has been associated with lower rates of some cardiac events iconexternal icon among people with heart disease, especially among those who had had a cardiac event in the past year.

Flu vaccines are updated as needed each season to keep up with changing viruses. As immunity wanes over a year so, annual vaccination is needed to ensure the best possible protection against flu.  A flu vaccine protects against the flu viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. (Vaccine Virus Selection for this season’s exact vaccine composition.)

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

Types of Flu Vaccines for People with Heart Disease

 Get pneumococcal vaccines.

  • Pneumococcal pneumonia is an example of a serious flu-related complication that can cause death.
  • 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.
  • You can get either Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine or Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (but not both) when you get the flu vaccine.
  • Talk to your health care provider to find out which pneumococcal vaccines are recommended for you.

Other Preventive Actions for People with Heart Disease or History of Stroke

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

Specific Health Actions for People with Heart Disease or History of Stroke

  • Plan ahead to maintain sufficient supplies of your regular medications for chronic medical conditions (e.g. at least a 2-week supply).
  • Do not stop taking your regular medications without first consulting your health care provider, especially in the event that you become sick with flu or another respiratory infection.
  • People with heart failure should be alert to changes in their breathing and should promptly report changes to their health care provider.

Symptoms and Treatment

If you get sick with flu symptoms call your health care provider right away. There are flu 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 or people who have had a stroke.

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 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 four FDA-approved influenza antiviral drugs recommended by CDC this season that can be used to treat the flu. These medicines fight against flu by keeping flu viruses from making more viruses in your body A health care provider needs to write a prescription for you to be treated with flu antiviral drugs.

When to Seek Emergency Medical Care

Anyone experiencing any of the following emergency warning signs of flu sickness, including people with heart disease or who have had a stroke, should 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.