If you have heart disease, the swine flu vaccine can do more than just prevent the aches, pains, and fever associated with the virus. It may also protect you from having a heart attack, according to study published in the British medical journal The Lancet.  

The study, which analyzed 39 previous studies of heart patients, found that people with heart disease were more vulnerable to heart attacks after a bout with the flu than healthy people, with up to half of all unexpected flu deaths attributable to heart disease.

According to the American Heart Association, all types of influenza pose a greater threat for people with heart failure or any cardiovascular disease because they can worsen existing underlying chronic medical conditions. Heart patients are also at greater risk for complications from the flu, including pneumonia. And while flu viruses cause inflammation in the body, usually the lungs, they can also cause the heart itself or the coronary arteries to swell. This can lead to clots breaking off and lodging in the heart, resulting in a heart attack.

Although it isn't clear whether the British study results pertain to healthy people with no history of heart disease, experts caution that flu viruses could be a potential trigger for heart attacks in people with no apparent heart problem if they have other risk factors such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol or are overweight.

How to Stay Healthy This Flu Season

Because more flu viruses will be circulating this year, experts recommend that heart patients get vaccinated against both the seasonal and swine flu. The seasonal flu vaccine is available now, and the H1N1 flu vaccine will be available nationwide soon. Check with your doctor about when to schedule the swine flu vaccine. In addition to the vaccines, the American Heart Association suggests following these tips to stay healthy:

  • Avoid close contact with sick people
  • If you do get sick, stay home from work or school and limit contact with other people to keep from infecting them
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and throw the tissue in the trash after you've use it
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth