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Heart disease increases risk of complications from the flu

DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I had some heart trouble earlier this year and have not yet gotten a flu shot. Is it safe for someone like me, who has heart issues, to get the vaccine?

In almost all cases, the answer is yes. Unless you have a specific reason for not getting a flu (influenza) shot — such as an allergy — the flu shot is very safe, even if you have heart disease.

In fact, heart disease increases the risk of complications if you get influenza, and, so, in your case, the flu vaccine would be strongly recommended. Influenza, or the flu, is a known risk factor for cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke, which sometimes can cause death. The flu also can worsen heart failure or other conditions that can stress the cardiovascular system, such as diabetes or asthma.

It's not entirely clear how the flu triggers cardiovascular problems. It may make artery-clogging plaques more unstable and vulnerable to rupture. It may lower oxygen levels and make the heart work harder. It may directly injure heart cells. Or it may simply put too much stress on a more frail body.

The flu shot reduces the risk of getting the flu. Even if you get the flu after receiving a flu shot, you'll probably have a less severe case of the flu.

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A recent review of research suggests that getting the flu vaccine may reduce the risk of a heart attack. The review found that older adults who got the flu vaccine reduced their risk of heart attack over the next eight months by about 36 percent. Among older adults with pre-existing heart disease, getting a flu shot reduced heart attack risk by over half. (adapted from Mayo Clinic Health Letter) — Priya Sampathkumar, M.D., Infectious Diseases, Mayo Clinic, Rochester.

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READERS:As days grow shorter and nights grow longer, it pays to be attentive when getting behind the wheel, especially after dark. Age-related changes to your vision and eye diseases, such as cataracts, can make it difficult to see clearly at night. You may have trouble reading road signs, adapting to glare from headlights, or correctly judging distances and speed of other vehicles.

There are general measures you can take to help you drive safely at night, as well as specific precautions when you get behind the wheel. In general:

Stay current with eye exams.

–Wear glasses that are antireflective and don't obstruct your peripheral vision.

–Check with your doctor about medication side effects that might affect your driving abilities.

–Keep your windshield and headlights clean. Ask your mechanic to make sure headlights are aimed correctly.

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–Don't drive if you feel impaired or sleepy.

–Take a driving course. Even experienced drivers can benefit from a refresher now and then.

In addition, take precautions, such as:

–Slow down so that you have time to react and stop, if needed.

–Minimize distractions, such as fiddling with the radio or a phone, eating, or drinking.

–Stay alert to the road and other drivers.

–Pull over if you need to check directions, make a call, send a text, or just need a break or a nap, especially on longer trips. — (adapted from Mayo Clinic Health Letter)

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