Flu (seasonal influenza) 

Man talking to doctor

Flu is a virus that can leave you feeling weak and unwell. If you have a heart condition, you have a greater risk of becoming more seriously ill from the flu than the general population.

There is also evidence that heart attacks happen more often during or immediately after an acute inflammatory illness, such as flu.

If you have a chronic heart condition, including heart failure or congenital heart disease, you are recommended to get the flu vaccination. If you think you have the flu you should contact your GP as soon as possible for advice.

Does the flu affect my medication?

If you take warfarin, it's important to know that if you have cold or flu like symptoms, it can affect your blood clotting rate (INR). So if you are feeling unwell, speak to your doctor or anticoagulation nurse about monitoring your INR.

Some medications to relieve the symptoms of flu can’t be used when taking prescribed medicines for heart conditions, so contact your GP surgery or pharmacist before taking over the counter medicines such as painkillers and cough medicines.

How can I avoid the flu?

Getting a flu vaccination or the ‘flu jab’ helps protect you from getting the flu. No vaccine can protect you completely, but you are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated if you have a heart condition or are in one or more of the following groups:

  • people with heart disease
  • people over the age of 65 years
  • those with diabetes, chronic liver or chronic kidney disease
  • pregnant women
  • those with respiratory diseases, such as chronic asthma
  • those with a weakened immune system

These groups of people are not more likely to catch the flu than others, but they are more likely to become very ill from the flu. Your GP or practice nurse can tell you more about the vaccine and how to get it. It's also a good idea to avoid close contact with friends or relatives who have already got the virus.

Is the flu vaccine safe?

Yes, for most people the flu vaccine is considered safe and would not be used if it was considered unsafe in any way. Your GP or Practice Nurse will talk to you about any risks or potential side effects that may affect you.

How do I know if I’ve got the flu?

The flu is a debilitating illness that has similar symptoms to a common cold.  However, the symptoms of flu last a lot longer and are more severe. Some symptoms you may have with the flu are:

  • a runny nose
  • a sore throat
  • headache
  • muscle aches and pain
  • a fever
  • a cough

Some people also develop complications to the flu such as a bacterial lung infection or bronchitis.

How long does the flu last?

Most people recover within a week of getting the flu. However, as with any illness, it will depend on your general health and how soon you get treatment. You should speak to your GP practice as soon as you feel unwell or if you think you have been exposed to the flu.

Swine flu and Bird flu

Swine flu is the H1N1 virus - a strain of flu that is carried by pigs. It doesn't normally affect humans, but this particular strain has mutated and can infect humans. It can now be passed from human to human. There is no evidence that pigs in the UK carry the infection. In the autumn/winter of 2012 the seasonal flu vaccine included the swine flu vaccine.

Bird flu (also called avian flu) is the H7N9 virus. This virus can infect humans, but it happens rarely and hardly ever passes from human to human.

The Health Protection Agency has more information on swine and bird flu.

More information

NHS Choices has more information on this year's flu jab (2013/14).