Flu Vaccine May Cut Heart Attack Risk

Flu Vaccine and Heart Attack Risk

If you are hesitating to get your annual flu shot, then a new study may give you a reason to reconsider, especially if you have cardiovascular disease.  It appears that getting the flu vaccine may actually help cut your heart attack and stroke risk by more than half.

According to study author Dr. Jacob Udell, who is a cardiologist at Women’s College Hospital, these findings are”extraordinary,” given that yearly flu shots could serve as a powerful preventative strategy for what ranks as the leading cause of death in North America.

Udell says that the flu vaccine helps prevent heart disease in vulnerable patients, giving the best protection to those who are at the highest risk.

In addition, Udell says that the protective effects of the vaccine are at their strongest in those who receive a more potent vaccine.

Udell’s study examined the results of six clinical trials dealing with heart health in people who received the flu vaccine.  Altogether, more than 6,700 people with a history of heart disease took part in the individual studies.

Udell’s team found that those who received the flu vaccine had a 36 percent lower risk for having a heart attack, heart failure or stroke one year after receiving the vaccine.  If they had suffered a recent heart attack, then that figure went up to 55 percent.  In addition, people who had received a flu shot were less likely to die of heart problems.  And, having a more potent vaccine – rather than the standard seasonal flu vaccine – made them less likely to have heart-related events as well.

Dr. Udell and his co-author urge caution in interpreting these results, however, saying that a larger clinical trial is needed, which would be used to follow heart disease patients who have received flu shots in order to see if the effect holds up to scrutiny.  It would need to be proven as both safe and effective before doctors could make a recommendation for using the vaccine as a preventive measure for heart attacks and stroke.  They are currently arranging such a study, according to Udell, which will follow heart disease patients for a full year after they receive the vaccine.

Hundreds of thousands of patients die each year from heart disease, says Udell.  Currently, doctors encourage their patients to engage in preventative measures involving lifestyle changes and medication.  However, if annual flu shots could be added to this arsenal of treatments, it would be a simple and important way to cut down on deaths and reduce healthcare costs.

Udell worked on the study with Dr Michael Farkouh, Chair of the Peter Munk Centre of Excellence in Multinational Clinical Trials, which is part of the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at the University Health Network.

The study dealing with the flu vaccine and its potential role in reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke was released to the public on October 22 ,2013.  It appears in the medical journal JAMA.

Written by:  Nancy Schimelpfening


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