What does the flu have to do with the heart?

Q. I have heart disease, and my doctor says that makes it more important for me to get a flu shot. What does the flu have to do with the heart?

A. Many patients have told me that they don’t see the value in getting flu shots because “it’s just the flu.” They imagine that influenza (“the flu”) is nothing more than the common cold and will just go away in a few days. Unfortunately, the symptoms of the flu are usually more severe than those of a common cold: worse coughing, much worse aching and fatigue, and higher fever. In addition, the effect of the flu on the lungs can cause blood oxygen levels to drop to dangerously low levels. As a result, the flu can lead to hospitalization and death. This is not just a rare event: the CDC estimates that from 2010 to 2020, the flu resulted in 140,000 to 710,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 to 52,000 deaths each year in the United States. By comparison, about 40,000 people die in auto accidents in the U.S. each year.

How does flu affect the heart? The virus only rarely infects the heart directly. Instead, the adverse effects of the virus on the heart are due to atherosclerosis of the arteries of the heart. Many people over age 50 have atherosclerosis — and in some people, it has not yet been diagnosed. Because atherosclerosis narrows the arteries and reduces the flow of blood, less oxygen reaches the heart muscle. When the effect of the flu on the lungs lowers the amount of oxygen in the blood, this further reduces the supply of oxygen to the heart. This can lead to a heart attack or cardiac arrest (sudden death).

Is this risk more than theoretical? Many careful studies have shown there is an increased risk of heart disease following a bout of flu. In one study of 80,000 adults with influenza, nearly 12% had a serious cardiac event, such as a heart attack, during or in the weeks after getting the flu.

Although having the flu definitely increases the risk of a heart attack, what’s the evidence that getting a flu shot protects against a heart attack? An analysis published online on April 29, 2022, by JAMA Network Open combined the results of six randomized trials involving over 9,000 people. Getting a flu shot reduced the risk of a heart attack and related cardiac events by 34%; the protection was even greater in people who had recently experienced heart trouble.

So, I agree with your doctor: the fact that you have heart disease makes it even more important that you get a flu shot each year. The same is true of people who are at increased risk for heart disease, including people over 60, smokers, or anyone with high blood pressure or diabetes. Play it safe.

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city—will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes? (Genesis 18:24) And the Lord replied, “If I find fifty righteous people in Sodom, I will spare the entire city for their sake.” (Genesis 18:26)

And be sure to say, ‘Look, your servant Jacob is right behind us.’” Jacob thought, “I will try to appease him by sending gifts ahead of me. When I see him in person, perhaps he will be friendly to me.” (Genesis 32:20)
to say to you: ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept. (Genesis 50:17)

“Forgive my sin, just this once, and plead with the Lord your God to take away this death from me.” (Exodus 10:17)
Pay close attention to him, and obey his instructions. Do not rebel against him, for he is my representative, and he will not forgive your rebellion. (Exodus 23:21)

Moses Intercedes for Israel The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a terrible sin, but I will go back up to the Lord on the mountain. Perhaps I will be able to obtain forgiveness for your sin.” (Exodus 32:30) So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a terrible sin these people have committed. They have made gods of gold for themselves. (Exodus 32:31) But now, if you will only forgive their sin—but if not, erase my name from the record you have written!” (Exodus 32:32)

The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out, “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. (Exodus 34:6) I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected— even children in the third and fourth generations.” (Exodus 34:7)

And he said, “O Lord, if it is true that I have found favor with you, then please travel with us. Yes, this is a stubborn and rebellious people, but please forgive our iniquity and our sins. Claim us as your own special possession.” (Exodus 34:9)
just as he does with the bull offered as a sin offering for the high priest. Through this process, the priest will purify the people, making them right with the Lord, and they will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:20) Then he must burn all the goat’s fat on the altar, just as he does with the peace offering. Through this process, the priest will purify the leader from his sin, making him right with the Lord, and he will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:26)

Then he must remove all the goat’s fat, just as he does with the fat of the peace offering. He will burn the fat on the altar, and it will be a pleasing aroma to the Lord. Through this process, the priest will purify the people, making them right with the Lord, and they will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:31) Then he must remove all the sheep’s fat, just as he does with the fat of a sheep presented as a peace offering. He will burn the fat on the altar on top of the special gifts presented to the Lord. Through this process, the priest will purify the people from their sin, making them right with the Lord, and they will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:35)

The priest will then prepare the second bird as a burnt offering, following all the procedures that have been prescribed. Through this process the priest will purify you from your sin, making you right with the Lord, and you will be forgiven. (Leviticus 5:10) Through this process, the priest will purify those who are guilty of any of these sins, making them right with the Lord, and they will be forgiven. The rest of the flour will belong to the priest, just as with the grain offering.” (Leviticus 5:13)

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