By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Are flu shots good for more than keeping you flu-free?

It may be your heart that reaps the benefit, too.

In fact, along with diet, exercise and not smoking, one cardiologist already urges her patients to get one.

“During the winter season we also talk about getting the flu shot,” says Allegheny General Hospital cardiologist Dr. Indu Poornima.

Researchers reviewed five decades of published clinical trials looking at the influenza vaccine and heart disease.

They combined four studies of more than 3,000 patients.

One half had heart disease, the other half did not. One half the participants had been randomly assigned to get a flu shot, the other half placebo.

At one year of follow-up, the group getting the flu shot was 50 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke and 40 percent less likely to die of any cause.

“Inflammation is one of the biggest triggers for heart attacks, in addition to all the risk factors. And the flu is definitely an inflammatory disease,” Dr. Porrnima explains.

The study, which is not yet published, is being presented to Canadian heart doctors meeting this week in Toronto.

Some limitations are not all the studies kept secret whether a participant got flu shot or placebo. Some were at one hospital only and heart disease risk varied greatly among the participants.

“Among the people with heart disease, most of them, I feel, are more inclined to get the shot,” said Dr. Porrnima, “because they certainly don’t want another problem on top of what they already have.”

In another study being presented at the meeting, people with implanted defibrillators get shocked more frequently during flu season, suggesting there is some relationship between influenza and the heart.

But those who get a flu shot don’t get as many shocks as the ones who are not vaccinated.

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