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What does the flu have to do with the heart?

September 1, 2022

Ask the doctor

photo-illustration of a human torso showing a transparent body and a glowing red heartQ. 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.

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