PEORIA, Ill. -- Strokes are the fourth leading cause of death in Illinois.
Tuesday was World Stroke Day, a day dedicated to preventing of heart disease and believe it or not one way you could celebrate is by getting a flu shot.
Dr. Darrel Gumm is a cardiologist at OSF St. Francis Medical Center. He said he has been telling his patients this same message for more than 20 years.
"I'm seeing you because you have heart disease. You should be getting the flu shot every year. It's going to help you and it's going to pay off because these smaller studies pointed the way and when you pool it, you'll see just how important it really is,” said Dr. Gumm.
In a recent Toronto study, researchers studied the flu shot's ability to prevent heart disease. They analyzed data from multiple studies with more than 6,000 patients. Half got a vaccine, the other half did not. The results were outstanding.
"When you see there's a 55 percent reduction in heart attacks among that population that have heart disease that seems pretty powerful,” said Dr. Gumm.
Overall there was a 36 percent lower risk of any other major cardiac event.
"An individual study may show more or less than that, but by the time you gather more than 6,000 patients, you really have powerful data,” Dr. Gumm said.
But what exactly about the flu shot causes this significant change?
"We know for sure that coronary disease is an inflammatory process, so that inside that plaque there's inflammation. So as that boils away, it ruptures and that causes a heart attack,” said Dr. Gumm.
Dr. Gumm said the flu causes total body inflammation.
"So every year you don't have a total body inflammation episode, you're reducing your risk,” he said. “You're helping your plaque stay stable. So particularly the coronary patients that get a flu shot every year show the most benefits. In fact this recent study shows the most unstable patients had the highest benefit."
For Morton resident Tina Mahaffey, that really hits home.
"My husband passed away three years ago from a heart attack,” Mahaffey said. “He never got the flu shot, so it has encouraged me to get the flu shot every year, because I have a daughter at home and I don't want to leave her without a second parent."