Getting an annual flu shot may also lower the risk of stroke

MINNEAPOLIS — Getting a flu shot this fall may provide an added bonus for many patients — lowering their risk of suffering a stroke.

“Compelling” new research has found “yet another reason” for people to get this annual vaccination against the flu, with researchers discovering a 12-percent drop in the likelihood of having a stroke after receiving the shot.

“Studies have shown that getting the flu increases your risk of having a stroke, but research is still being collected on whether getting the flu vaccine can help protect against a stroke,” says study author Francisco J. de Abajo, MD, MPH, PhD, of the University of Alcalá in a media release.

“This observational study suggests that those who have a flu shot have a lower risk of stroke. To determine whether this is due to a protective effect of the vaccine itself or to other factors, more research is needed.”

Pre-existing conditions could be a factor

The team looked at ischemic strokes, the most common type of stroke, which occurs due to a blockage of blood flow to the brain. Study authors examined a Spanish healthcare database, looking at 14,322 former stroke patients over 40, and 71,610 people of the same age who have never had a stroke.

Of this group, the team looked at whether people received a flu shot at least 14 days before their stroke. More than two in five (41.4%) stroke victims receiving a flu shot within those 14 days, compared to 40.5 percent of those who did not.

However, those who got the flu shot were more likely to be older and living with other pre-existing health conditions, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Both would increase their chances of a stroke.

Once the researchers adjusted for these factors, they discovered that those who received a flu shot were 12 percent less likely to have a stroke in comparison to others. The team also looked at the pneumonia vaccine but didn’t find any protective effects when it came to strokes.

“These results are yet another reason for people to get their yearly flu shot, especially if they are at an increased risk of stroke,” de Abajo says. “To be able to reduce your risk of stroke by taking such a simple action is very compelling.”

The team does note that because the study is observational, it does not prove getting the flu shot reduces stroke risk. It only shows an association and there could be other factors at play affecting stroke risk.

The findings are published in the journal Neurology.

South West News Service writer Pol Allingham contributed to this report.

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