Flu vaccines for adults 40 and older may lower the risk of getting a first-time heart attack during the following year, according to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal and reported by Reuters.

Researchers in the United Kingdom analyzed the medical records of 16,000 patients, age 40 and older, hospitalized for their first heart attack and compared them with those of a control group of more than 62,000 people with no history of heart attacks. (Each heart attack patient was matched with four same-sex, same-age patients from the control group.)

After accounting for heart attack risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking, scientists associated the flu vaccine with a 19 percent decrease in patients’ odds of having a heart attack during the next year, compared with those receiving no vaccine. Moreover, researchers found that when patients received earlier vaccinations (from September through November), their heart attack risk decreased by 21 percent compared with 12 percent if vaccinated later in the flu season.

Although it’s unclear how flu vaccines may counteract heart attack risk, some believe the flu infection causes an inflammatory reaction that increases blood clotting, which can cause heart attacks. The vaccine would stop this process.

Currently, doctors recommend that adults older than 65 and people with heart disease or chronic health conditions receive yearly flu shots.  

While it’s important to note that this type of study cannot prove that flu shots prevent heart attacks, it does build on earlier studies that link flu vaccines with a reduced risk of the problem.

Simply put, what this means is more research is needed.

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