The flu shot and heart attack prevention

November 3, 2010 3:02:22 PM PDT
It's flu season again and you've heard the advice from the medical experts.

This year, everyone should get a flu shot. But there is another reason, one group of people should be front and center for getting their vaccine.

Yes, the flu shot helps prevent the flu, but it also helps prevent something else that might surprise you: A heart attack.

"I tell my patients every year, around this time of year, please get your flu shot. And they expect me to say, 'Because I don't want you to get the flu'. But I say, 'No. It's because I don't want you to have a heart attack,'" Stephen Kopecky of the Mayo Clinic said.

Kopecky, a cardiologist, says when a patient gets a flu shot their risk for heart attack and stroke goes down by about half over the next year.

The flu is a respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus. When the infection strikes it causes an inflammatory reaction that can happen anywhere in your body.

If it happens in your heart arteries where there may be narrowing, the artery lining can tear. Blood can then clot and block blood flow to your heart.

"We have too many patients that think. I really don't want a flu shot because I never get the flu, but they don't realize how much they can help their heart," Kopecky said.

It's a fact that outweighs any downsides.

"Patients will very calmly say, 'Well, I don't want the flu shot. It gives me arm ache or I had the flu after I got the flu shot.' When I say, 'Well, I don't want you to get a heart attack.' They're much more likely to get the flu shot after I explain it to them," he said.

Dr. Kopecky says if you get the inhaled flu mist instead of the flu shot, you still reduce your risk of heart attack.

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