Heart Disease and the Flu

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on August 11, 2022
3 min read

If you have heart disease, it's important to do all you can to avoid getting the flu.

You’ll have a harder time fighting off viruses that cause the illness. In fact, people with heart trouble are more likely to get the flu than people with any other long-term (chronic) illness.

Viral infections like the flu also put added stress on your body, which can affect your blood pressure, heart rate, and overall heart function. That can raise your odds of having a heart attack or stroke.

But none of this has to happen. The flu is easy to prevent. You can take simple steps now to avoid serious problems later on.

The flu usually comes on quickly. You have:

When you’re shopping for an over-the-counter (OTC) medication, check the label. Look for a product that’s decongestant-free or made just for people with high blood pressure. Decongestants can raise your blood pressure and interfere with other medications.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before you try any OTC treatment. Make sure you tell each of your doctors about all of the medicines you're taking -- prescription and over the counter.

Get a flu shot. The CDC says the best time to do it is as soon as the shot becomes available in the fall. If you miss it then, you can get it through January or even later. Flu season can begin as early as October and last through May -- but the earlier in the season you get vaccinated, the better.

Ask for the flu shot, not FluMist. People with heart disease shouldn’t receive the live vaccine that’s given as a nasal spray in FluMist. .

You can take other steps to stay well, too. Keep your hands clean to help prevent the flu. Thorough washing is vital to keep germs off your hands, so you don't bring them into your body through your mouth, nose, or eyes.

Let her know if you think you might have the flu. They may want you to come to the office for an exam and tests.

If you do have it, they’ll recommend an antiviral drug. It will ease symptoms and shorten your illness if you take it early on.

Call your doctor immediately if you have the following problems:

  • Symptoms that don't improve or get worse after 3 to 4 days of illness
  • You feel a little better, then you start to feel much worse -- sick-to-your-stomach, vomiting, high fever, shaking chills, chest pain, or coughing with thick yellow-green mucus.

If your symptoms get worse, you may need urgent medical care. Call 911 if you have trouble breathing or any other signs of a health emergency. Don’t wait to call 911 or go to the emergency room if you have heart disease and the flu. It's better to get a quick medical exam and treatment than to risk waiting to see if your symptoms get better on their own.