New Study Finds Links between Shingles and Cardiovascular Disease

Some health problems tend to surface and show their first signs on the skin. It isn’t uncommon for a rash to mean that something is wrong on the inside, or for a mole to be related to a disease that has nothing to do with skin or even the area of the body where it is located. This is apparently true for shingles as well, according to a new study.

The research, which was recently published on the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, followed 520,000 patients over a period of 10 years and uncovered a link between shingles and cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and heart attack.

The medical team found that those who suffered from shingles were 35% more likely to experience a stroke in their lifetimes. They were unfortunately also a whopping 59% more likely to have a heart attack than the other participants.

The bad news concerning the likelihood of having a stroke doesn’t end there for shingles patients. In fact, the study found that, contrary to the norm, younger shingles patients — those under the age of 40 years old, in this case – are three times as likely to experience a stroke as shingles-free people. These findings are quite alarming, seeing as younger subjects usually present fewer risk factors than older men and women, who are more likely to experience blockages in their blood vessels.

It is also relevant to note that these individuals were at a much higher risk of experiencing either a stroke or a heart attack in the year immediately after their shingles were first diagnosed.

Shingles is a condition that results from being infected by the chickenpox virus, which stays dormant in the body after the initial outbreak disappears. The CDC estimates one in every three people do experience shingles during their lifetimes.

An outbreak of shingles usually translates into a severely painful blistering rash that appears on one side of the body or face. Aside from the rash, shingles can also cause fever, headaches and chills, among other symptoms.

This study didn’t bring forward any insights into why shingles could be a risk factor for strokes and heart attacks, but this wasn’t the first time researchers delved into this matter.

Previous research speculates that the chickenpox virus could affect the brain’s arteries as it reactivates, increasing the risk of an aneurysm or hemorrhagic stroke. Other possibilities have also been brought forward, but are yet to be checked and confirmed.

Meanwhile, taking the chickenpox vaccine may be helpful, as it lowers the risk of catching the virus and developing shingles, thus lowering one’s risk or suffering a heart attack or stroke as well.