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Getting a Flu Shot May Help Reduce Your Risk of a Heart Attack

Older woman receiving a flu shot in the arm.

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Key Takeaways

  • A new study from Spain has found a link between influenza viruses, cold weather, and a certain type of heart attack.
  • Adults over the age of 60 might be able to reduce their risk of a type 1 heart attack by getting an annual flu vaccine.
  • You can reduce your risk of heart attacks by managing your blood pressure, staying active, and quitting smoking.

In addition to helping ward off a case of the common cold, getting your annual flu shot, according to new research, may even help reduce the risk of certain heart attacks in older adults.

In a new study, researchers have found a link between the influenza virus, cold temperatures, and an increased risk of type 1 heart attacks in people over the age of 60.

The study's findings, which were published in April in the Journal of the American Heart Association, show why annual flu vaccination is a key tool for preventing serious illness—both from the flu and other causes.

Type 1 heart attacks are caused by a ruptured plaque in the coronary arteries.

The study included data on 8,240 people who had type 1 heart attacks over five consecutive flu seasons in Madrid, Spain. The researchers found an independent relationship between the flu virus and cold temperatures—factors that appear to play a part in the plaque rupture that leads to a heart attack.

The authors of the study concluded that receiving a flu vaccine could reduce the risk for type 1 heart attacks in people aged 60 and up. 

“This is a reminder that the flu vaccine does more than protect us from getting the flu,” Eduardo Sanchez, MD, MPH, FAAFP, chief medical officer for prevention at the American Heart Association (AHA), tells Verywell. “The combination of getting the flu vaccine and managing Life’s Simple 7 are the best ways to reduce the chances of a plaque-rupturing heart attack.”

Flu and Heart Attack Risk

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older adults are six times more at risk of having a heart attack in the week following a case of the flu.

Alan Yeung, MD

When there is less flu, there is less incidence of type 1 heart attacks.

— Alan Yeung, MD

Research suggests that the flu virus can trigger a cytokine storm that produces widespread inflammation in arterial walls, which can lead to plaque disruption, arterial blockage, and a heart attack.

“Inflammation caused by an infection can go everywhere in the body including plaque,” Alan Yeung, MD, medical director of cardiovascular health at Stanford Medicine in California, tells Verywell. “When there is less flu, there is less incidence of type 1 heart attacks.”

Benefits of a Flu Shot

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the influenza vaccine does not just help prevent the flu—it also reduces older adults' chances of dying from heart disease by 18%. It also reduces their risk of dying from other causes by 28%.  

The CDC recommends that everyone age six months and older receive an annual flu vaccination.

The influenza vaccine offers many health benefits for people of all ages. According to the CDC, getting an annual flu shot may:

  • Prevent illness and flu-related doctor's visits
  • Reduce the chance of flu-related hospitalizations
  • Reduce severe chronic lung disease
  • Reduce the risk of severe complications of diabetes
  • Protect people who are pregnant or have recently given birth
  • Protect vulnerable people around you
  • Protects infants who are too young to be vaccinated

The flu shot may also reduce the severity of COVID-19-related illness. Additionally, the same hand-washing, mask-wearing, and social distancing precautions in place during the COVID-19 pandemic can also help decrease the spread of the flu virus.

Heart Attack Prevention

After you get your flu shot, there are also other ways you can reduce your risk of heart disease and having a heart attack. 

The AHA outlines Life’s Simple 7—seven lifestyle changes that can help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke:

  1. Manage Blood Pressure
  2. Control Cholesterol
  3. Reduce Blood Sugar
  4. Get Active
  5. Eat Better
  6. Lose Weight
  7. Stop Smoking

The Importance of Managing Stress

One of the best actions you can take for your heart and overall health is finding effective ways to reduce your stress levels.

Chronic stress has been associated with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are linked to poor cardiovascular health. Stress can also lead to overeating, smoking, and higher alcohol intake—practices that can also negatively affect heart health.

Other ways you can work on lowering your stress levels include getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, using mindfulness and meditation, and talking with a mental health professional.

What This Means For You

The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of six months get a flu shot each year—if you can. In addition to helping prevent the flu and the serious illness it can cause, it may help reduce the risk of certain heart attacks. There are also other actions you can take to reduce your risk of a heart attack, like staying physically active, managing your stress levels, and quitting smoking.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Garcia-Lledo A, Rodriguez-Martin S, Tobias A, et. al. Relationship between influenza, temperature, and type 1 myocardial infarction: an ecological time-series study. J Am Heart Assoc. Published online April 8, 2021. doi:10.1161/JAHA.120.019608

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Flu and people with heart disease or history of stroke. Updated February 10, 2021.

  3. MacIntyre CR, Mahimbo A, Moa AM, Barnes M. Influenza vaccine as a coronary intervention for prevention of myocardial infarction. Heart. 2016;102(24):1953-1956. doi:10.1136/heartjnl-2016-309983

  4. American Heart Association (AHA). Flu shot reduces risk of death for people with heart disease. Updated November 18, 2020.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Who needs a flu vaccine and when. Updated January 25, 2021.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). What are the benefits of flu vaccination?. Updated January 27, 2021.