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Flu vaccine lowers heart attack risk, study finds

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Looking for another reason to get the flu shot? It could lower your risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or other serious heart complication — especially if you already have heart disease. That’s the finding of a study published last Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers reviewed five previously published clinical trials involving nearly 6,500 volunteers with an average age of 67. They found that those who had the influenza vaccine were 36 percent less likely to have a life-threatening heart attack, stroke, or heart failure within a year of being vaccinated, compared with those who received a placebo. Of those who received the placebo, 4.7 percent had a heart event compared with 2.9 percent who received a flu shot.

When the researchers isolated only those who previously had a heart attack or unstable chest pain they found that the immunization offered an even greater benefit: About 10 percent of the heart patients who were vaccinated developed a serious heart complication during the study compared with 23 percent of those who had a placebo shot.

Why would the vaccine lower a person’s heart attack risk? The study authors said they didn’t know for certain but that it might have something to do with flu infections causing inflammation that might increase the likelihood of heart rhythm abnormalities, fluid buildup around the heart, or a rupture of artery plaque that would block blood flow to the heart.

Deborah Kotz can be reached at dkotz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.
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