A New Reason To Get The Flu Shot, Study Shows It Can Prevent Atrial Fibrillation

Healthy Living

March 14, 2016

What Is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is medically described as a heart rate that is irregular and typically rapid. When atrial fibrillation occurs the two upper chambers of the heart called the atria beat out of sync with the two lower chambers known as the ventricles, creating a heart beat that is irregularly rapid and chaotic. This irregularity in the heart beat (atrial fibrillation) can produce symptoms that include difficulty in breathing, fatigue, and heart palpitations. While atrial fibrillation is not typically a life threatening condition on its own it can require treatment and even hospitalizations which can cause serious complications.

How Does The Flu Shot Prevent Atrial Fibrillation?

Influenza, commonly called the flu is one of the most common causes of increased risk of developing new-onset atrial fibrillation, particularly in older people and the elderly. New findings from a report published in HeartRhythm states that the risk can be significantly reduced by getting a flu shot.

The new findings are based on a research study that was conducted by researchers at the Taipei Veterans General Hospital, Taiwan. Lead investigators Tze-Fan Chao, MD and Su-Jung Chen, MD analyzed Taiwan National Health Insurance Research Database records from the year 2000 to 2010 to identify more than 11,000 patients that were diagnosed with new onset atrial fibrillation. These 11,000 patients were then matched with four control patients identified as not having AF (atrial fibrillation) that were enrolled on the same date, bringing the control patients into the study brought the number of people studied to 57,000 people. The purpose of the study is to investigate if the influenza virus is a risk factor for AF and to ascertain if the flu shot can reduce the risk of developing atrial fibrillation.

The research patients were divided into categories for comparison with the patients who did not have influenza and did not receive a flu shot, they are the reference group. The results of the comparative study were as follows:

  • Patients diagnosed with influenza and did not get the flu shot had an 18 percent higher risk of AF compared to patients in the reference group.
  • Patients who had been vaccinated for influenza (got a flu shot) and still got influenza showed a “similar risk” of AF as the reference group.

In Conclusion the Study Showed: The influenza vaccination consistently indicated a lowered risk of developing atrial fibrillation in the different study groups.

In fact the study investigators said, “According to the findings presented here, the possibility of AF should be kept in mind when patients with influenza infection complain of palpitations or experience ischemic stroke. Influenza vaccination should be encouraged for patients, especially those who have a high risk of atrial fibrillation, to try to prevent the occurrence of atrial fibrillation and subsequent stroke. However, a further prospective study is necessary to confirm our findings.”

Why Are These Findings So Important?

Atrial fibrillation in itself is not a serious condition, but studies have shown that influenza can bring on serious complications for some people including AF. Atrial fibrillation can lead to more serious conditions such as stroke or blood clots which can be fatal or cause permanent damage. So the importance of reducing your risk of influenza by getting your annual flu shot can make a great deal of difference in your heart health and help prevent not only the flu, but more importantly your risk for atrial fibrillation.

It is highly recommended that anyone with a pre-existing heart condition, history of stroke, or pulmonary disease take all steps possible to fight off the influenza virus at all costs unless advised by your physician otherwise.