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Vaccinations and Heart Disease: An Unexpected Link

September 24, 2015 Posted in: Heart Health , Article

What do vaccines have to do with heart health? A lot, as it turns out. Vaccines save countless lives every year by preventing a number of infectious diseases. At one time, outbreaks of conditions such as influenza, whooping cough, and tetanus were common in the U.S., and when vaccinations for them were discovered, the immunization process was one of the greatest medical breakthroughs of the time.

Getting vaccinated makes good sense if you don't want to suffer from a bout of the flu, but did you know that the vaccine can also reduce your risk for heart disease?

Infectious Diseases and the Heart

As we age, our body's immune system weakens and makes us -- and our hearts -- more susceptible to infectious diseases. Vaccines prevent these diseases from occurring, but some incidentally benefit the heart. For example, a study from The Journal of the American Medical Association linked the influenza vaccine to better heart health.

The diseases that vaccines are designed to protect against can be quite serious, especially for older adults with heart disease. For example, the CDC says an acute bout of the flu is a risk factor for a cardiovascular event, a risk that increases with age and any history of heart problems. The problem is not so much the flu itself; rather, the complications arising from influenza are what get people in trouble. The CDC says that, during the 2014–2015 flu season, half of the people hospitalized for flu complications had some form of heart disease.

A number of vaccine-preventable diseases show links to heart-related conditions: Tetanus, sometimes called lockjaw, both directly and indirectly affects the heart. Acute illness from tetanus raises blood pressure and increases heart rate, while tetanus bacteria can infect the heart itself. Pneumonia bacterium mainly affects the lungs and robs the body of adequate oxygen supply in the blood, and this starves cells of nutrients -- including the heart muscle, ultimately weakening it. A number of viruses invade the heart and cause myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. Shingles is among these, and research in Neurology shows that the disease increases risk for heart failure.

When we get vaccinated, we're usually only thinking of the effect the shot will have on preventing the disease it's designed to prevent. That's logical, right? In the end, though, you can rest easier knowing that, by receiving certain vaccines, you or someone you care for is better protected against a preventable disease -- and that the heart is receiving improved protection, as well.

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