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How the flu shot can help prevent a heart attack

Get ready for your annual poke — a new study finds that the flu shot could help prevent heart attacks, strokes and other cardiac events, too.

Woman getting flu shot

Still considering a flu shot this year? You may want to go for the needle for a reason other than avoiding influenza. A new study finds that the flu shot can help prevent heart attacks and strokes.

Researchers found that the flu shot lowered the risk for a cardiovascular event by 36 percent and by 55 percent in those with a recent acute coronary syndrome, such as a heart attack or unstable angina, who got their shot within a year. The study was published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

“The highest-risk patient got the highest reward for getting the flu shot,” said Jacob Udell, lead author, a cardiologist at Women’s College Hospital and a scientist at the University of Toronto.

“The study is important because it reconfirms that there are benefits to getting the flu vaccination,” said Dr. David Frid, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “Especially in people who have recently had a cardiac event, because it reduces the likelihood of their having some type of cardiovascular complication if they do develop the flu.”

Udell also says that a stronger vaccine or a booster shot offered more protection against a cardiac event.

So how does the flu actually trigger a cardiac event?

It could be the “vulnerable plaque” theory, Udell said. This means that flu-related inflammation may transform a stable plaque into an unstable plaque and cause a cardiac event. The other reason is the “vulnerable patient” theory, which Udell says means that flu symptoms — coughing, low oxygen, low blood pressure, fast heart rate — or complications, such as pneumonia, may strain the heart and cause a cardiac event.

Flu shot: defender against a week of misery — and now, possible lifesaver.

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