The Importance of Regular Immunizations for Heart Health

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(Family Features) While most parents are good at keeping track of vaccines their kids need to stay healthy, many adults don’t realize there are immunizations important for keeping themselves heart-healthy, as well.

Adults, especially those with a history of heart disease or stroke, should take steps to stay up-to-date on preventive vaccines, particularly for the flu and COVID-19.

Influenza – While many experience just a few days of aches and chills, the flu can be deadly for some, including young children, the elderly and those with chronic conditions like heart disease, stroke and diabetes. There has also been research linking flu infection to cardiovascular disease (CVD). Getting a flu shot can not only prevent the flu, it may also reduce the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

In fact, a study published in “Stroke” found that, among a group of people hospitalized for various reasons, those who experienced a flu-like illness within a month of their hospitalization were 38% more likely to have a stroke. Receiving the flu vaccine within a year prior to hospitalization lowered a person’s stroke risk to 11%.

“Getting an annual flu shot should be part of routine health care for all individuals, especially for people who are already living with chronic health conditions that put them at higher risk for heart attacks or strokes,” said Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., M.P.H., FAHA, American Heart Association chief medical officer for prevention. “The potentially serious complications of the flu are far greater for those with chronic diseases. This is true not just for older people but even those age 50 and younger who have a history of high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes.”

COVID-19 – At the onset of the pandemic, the American Heart Association established the COVID-19 Cardiovascular Disease Registry, which found people with or at risk for CVD were more likely to become infected with and die from COVID-19. Additionally, the research found many people experience heart and vascular disease after getting COVID-19.

A study from the registry published in “Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology” found new-onset atrial fibrillation in 1 in 20 patients hospitalized with COVID-19. Additionally, research also found people hospitalized with COVID-19 had a higher risk of stroke compared with people who had similar infectious conditions such as influenza or sepsis.

“We can’t stress enough the connections between COVID-19 and cardiovascular disease,” Sanchez said. “There is clear evidence that people who have heart and vascular disease and even those with CVD risk factors are more likely to get COVID and to have more severe complications from the virus.”

Other Immunizations – While flu and COVID-19 vaccines are of the utmost importance, there are a number of other immunizations that can help keep people heart-healthy.

  • The pneumococcal vaccination protects against a common cause of severe pneumonia and is especially important for people 65 and older, and others with certain underlying medical conditions. This type of pneumonia can be deadly, especially for people already at high risk for health complications, including CVD. One shot is usually good for several years, although you may need a second one later depending on your age at your first shot.
  • Shingles, a viral infection caused by the chickenpox virus, has been linked to an increased risk of stroke. More than 99% of people age 40 or older in the United States may carry the dormant chickenpox virus, also known as the varicella-zoster virus, and not even realize it.

Learn more about important immunizations and find other preventive health tips at heart.org.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images
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