The Surprising Way Getting a Flu Shot May Save Your Life

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As if warding off fevers, chills and sniffles weren't enough of a reason to get a flu shot this fall, a new report suggests that the simple arm jab may protect you from two more serious health threats: heart attacks and strokes.

People who get the flu vaccine may enjoy as much as a 50 percent reduction in their risk of having a major cardiac event (i.e. stroke, heart attack, heart failure, or cardiac death) in the year following their inoculation, according to an analysis conducted by researchers from the University of Toronto.

About half of the people in the study had pre-existing heart disease, while half did not. The vaccine appeared advantageous for both groups, regardless of their prior cardiovascular condition.

What's behind the newly-discovered benefit?

According to study author, Jacob Udell, M.D., a cardiologist at the Women's College Hospital and the University of Toronto, there are a couple of ways that warding off the flu can protect your heart:

  • Inflammation, the body's natural response to an influenza infection, can loosen or dislodge plaque from artery walls. Having free-flowing plaque deposits swirling around can increase a person's risk for developing deadly blood flow blockages.
  • Getting the flu can further complicate the health of people with pre-existing conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and asthma. Adding common flu symptoms—such as congestion and fever—on top of these ailments may be too much to handle for adults who are already in poor health.

Udell and his colleagues warn that the heart attack risk reduction rate may vary among those who get an annual anti-flu injection. But, their results lend promising support to existing research that suggests influenza vaccinations are beneficial for heart health.

A Simple way to stay healthy

Getting a flu shot is an easy (and relatively inexpensive) way for both caregivers and their elderly loved ones to stay healthy during the fall and winter flu season, which runs from October to May.

Vaccinations are free for seniors with Medicare and many pharmacies offer discounts for people without health insurance.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that everyone age 50 and older, as well as those who are caregivers of the elderly, get vaccinated.

Talk to your doctor about what kind of flu shot you and your loved one should get. There are several different types of shots—including a high-dose variety made specifically for seniors.

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