Influenza Linked to Severe Complications for Heart Disease Patients

For adults living with chronic heart disease, influenza (flu) can mean more than a few days sick in bed. In fact, when heart disease is combined with flu, it can lead to severe complications and can increase the likelihood of heart attacks, hospitalization, or even death. (1)

Multiple studies have shown that a heart attack is more likely in the first few days following flu infection. In a study of 1,277 adults without a prior history of heart attack, the risk of heart attack was up to 10 times higher in the three days following infection. (2,3,4)

Additionally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that flu caused over 490,000 hospitalizations last year. (5) Among adults hospitalized with flu during the 2018-2019 flu season, heart disease was one of the most common chronic conditions – 47% of adults hospitalized for flu had heart disease.

Despite these risks, many adults with heart disease still do not get the annual flu vaccine. For the approximately 70 percent of adults in the United States ages 50 to 64 who have one or more chronic illnesses, (7) this could mean thousands of flu-related hospitalizations or deaths each year.

Mike Tilford, who lives with heart disease and diabetes, spent most of his life thinking that getting the flu was a normal part of every flu season. “I thought the flu was just something you got a couple of times each season, and you would suffer through it,” Mike said. But after his quadruple bypass surgery, Mike’s doctor insisted he get the annual flu shot to help prevent potential complications.

Vaccination is the best way to help protect against the flu. (8) Health officials recommend that all people ages 6 months and older, with rare exception, get vaccinated every year. For those with heart disease and other chronic health conditions, getting the flu vaccine is critical in helping prevent the flu. An annual flu shot can also make symptoms less severe should a flu infection occur. (9) Annual vaccination is crucial because the body’s immune response from vaccination declines over time, and the circulating flu virus strains – and vaccine formulation – vary from year to year. (10)

For Mike, the addition of the flu vaccine into his yearly medical care routine has helped combat the illness. “I’ve gotten the flu shot every year since my bypass surgery,” Mike said. “And I haven’t gotten the flu since.”

It’s not too late to get vaccinated against the flu this season. Flu activity typically peaks around February or March, so vaccination, even later in the season, is beneficial in helping to prevent flu. Vaccination also contributes to herd immunity by protecting vulnerable populations, like people with chronic health conditions, and helps controls the spread of the disease. (11)

Getting vaccinated is the best protection against flu and should be top of mind for those living with heart disease. Learn more about protecting yourself and loved ones from flu at


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Flu Symptoms & Complications. Updated February 26, 2019. Accessed May 16, 2019.
  2. Kwong JC, et al. Acute myocardial infarction after laboratory-confirmed influenza infection. N Engl J Med. 2018;378(4):345-353.
  3. Warren-Gash C, et al. Laboratory-confirmed respiratory infections as triggers for acute myocardial infarction and stroke: a self-controlled case series analysis of national linked datasets from Scotland. Eur Respir J. 2018;51(3).
  4. Ludwig A, et al. Acute cardiac injury events ≤30 days after laboratory-confirmed influenza virus infection among U.S. veterans, 2010–2012. BMC Cardiovasc Disord. 2015;15:109.
  5. CDC. Estimated Influenza Illnesses, Medical visits, Hospitalizations, and Deaths in the United States — 2018–2019 influenza season. Updated January 8, 2020. Accessed February 19, 2020.
  6. CDC, Heart Disease Facts. Updated December 2, 2019. Accessed February 18, 2020.
  7. CDC, AARP, American Medical Association. Promoting Preventive Services for Adults 50-64: Community and Clinical Partnerships.  Accessed May 16, 2019.
  8. CDC. Vaccination: Who Should Do It, Who Should Not and Who Should Take Precautions. Updated September 24, 2018. Accessed May 16, 2019.
  9. CDC. Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine. Updated September 6, 2018. Accessed May 16, 2019.
  10. CDC. Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine. Updated September 6, 2018. Accessed May 16, 2019.
  11. CDC. Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine. Updated September 6, 2018. Accessed May 16, 2019.

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