Shingles Can Increase Your Heart Attack Risk

shingles skin rash

Shingles, the nerve rash in adulthood caused by reactivation of the chickenpox virus, is an independent risk factor for stroke and other blood clot events, the largest study to confirm the association has found.

The Study: The retrospective (looking backwards) study included 106,601 cases of shingles, and 213,202 matched controls. The researchers followed the subjects for an average of 6.3 years after they got shingles. After adjusting for body mass index (BMI), smoking, cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes (and other vascular risk factors), they found:

  • Having shingles increased the risk of a heart attack by 10 percent and the risk of a so-called mini-stroke (transient ischemic attack) by 15 percent. The risk of a major stroke did not increase
  • For those who developed shingles before age 40, the relative risks increased dramatically: a 2.4-fold increased risk for a transient ischemic attack (TIA), and a 1.74-fold increase for heart attack.

Why: Perhaps the herpes virus spreads to blood vessels from the nerves, causing inflammation (which may in turn lead to blood vessel (vascular) disease.

My Take: Got shingles? Here are some the conclusions from Dr. Judith Breuer, a professor of virology at University College London:

You may wish to get yourself checked for other vascular risks. For selected individuals with other risk factors, you may wish to consider the zoster vaccination. Current recommendations from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are that anyone aged 60 years and older receives the herpes zoster vaccineThe role for vaccination in younger individuals with vascular risk factors needs to be determined,” Dr. Breuer says, while recognizing that multiple variables affect the chances of vascular events, such as stroke, TIA and heart attack. What is also clear is that factors that increase the risk of stroke also increase the risk of shingles, so we do not know if vaccinating people can reduce the risk of stroke per se.

I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

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Reference: Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology (January, 2014)

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Harvard AB Yale MD UPenn Radiation Oncology Radiation Oncologist, Seattle area

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