Ah, February. Time to celebrate Valentine’s Day and matters of the heart. We mean that literally; appropriate to the holiday of love, this is American Heart Month.
So while we cherish our loved ones with cards and flowers, we also are called on to think about cardiovascular health – keeping our “bad” cholesterol levels down, exercising, quitting smoking, eating right and the like.
What gets less attention during this month, though, is the important role that vaccination plays in heart health, by preventing diseases that are particularly dangerous for people with cardiac issues.
“People with heart disease are at higher risk for complications from certain diseases,” the CDC reminds doctors.
Flu shots are particularly important for cardiac patients, the CDC said.
“In fact, among adults hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza, cardiovascular disease is the most common chronic condition,” the agency reports. “Research indicates that influenza vaccination reduces the risk of acute coronary syndrome and cardiovascular disease-related deaths.”
And yet, relatively few heart patients know just how serious flu can be for them, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
Among other things, flu can increase the risk of heart attack, the foundation says. The risk of having a heart attack or stroke doubles during the week after a respiratory infection such as the flu.
February also coincides with one of the most active times of the flu season, so if you haven’t gotten your flu shot yet, this is certainly the time to do so.
The CDC also especially recommends three other vaccinations for people with heart disease:
Pneumococcal. “People who have heart disease should be up to date with pneumococcal vaccination to protect with pneumococcal diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis, and bloodstream infections,” the CDC says. Pneumococcal pneumonia is a particularly serious complication that can be fatal.
According to the foundation for infectious diseases, only about 65 percent of people 65 and older have received this important vaccination.
Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis). All adults need this one-time booster shot, and it’s particularly important for heart patients. Although diphtheria is now rare in the United States because most children have been vaccinated, complications in severe cases can damage the heart.
“The diphtheria toxin may spread through your bloodstream and damage other tissues in your body, such as your heart muscle, causing such complications as inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis),” according to the Mayo Clinic. “Heart damage from myocarditis may be slight, showing up as minor abnormalities on an electrocardiogram, or severe, leading to congestive heart failure and sudden death.”
Shingles. According to a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, shingles, a reactivation of the same virus that causes chickenpox, is associated with higher levels of heart attack and stroke.
“People who'd had shingles had a 59% higher risk of later having a heart attack and a 35% higher risk of having a stroke compared with people who did not have shingles,” the Harvard Heart Letter reported about the study. “The risk was highest during the first year after the onset of shingles and then diminished over time.”
Most people ages 60 and older should be vaccinated against this painful and sometimes debilitating disease. A newly approved vaccine against shingles has been shown in studies to be dramatically more effective than the older vaccine.
The CDC also warns that people with heart conditions might need additional vaccines, depending on various factors including international travel.