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Study links shingles to higher risk of stroke and heart attack


Photo: Hailshadow/iStockphoto

In addition to causing a skin rash and nerve pain, a shingles infection may increase your risk of a stroke or heart attack by 30%, results of a recent study show.

Around 1 out of 3 people will develop shingles – also known as herpes zoster – during their lifetime, according to Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox: the varicella zoster virus. If you’ve had chickenpox, the virus stays in your body for the rest of their life and can reactivate as shingles.

Researchers from the Boston hospital analyzed data from more than 205,000 adults who didn’t have a previous history of stroke or heart disease. Participants completed questionnaires during follow-ups, conducted every two years for up to 16 years.

The results: Participants who developed shingles were at 30% higher risk of a heart attack or stroke over the long term compared with those who didn’t.


Much of the study took place before the shingles vaccine was widely available to people 50 and older, so the researchers were unable to evaluate how vaccinations affect stroke and heart attack risk. Nonetheless, they say their findings highlight the importance of public health efforts for prevention. As the population ages, more cases of shingles are projected.

“Given the growing number of Americans at risk for this painful and often disabling disease, and the availability of an effective vaccine, shingles vaccination could provide a valuable opportunity to reduce the burden of shingles and reduce the risk of subsequent cardiovascular complications,” said lead study author Sharon Curhan, a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

The study was published online in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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