Shingles linked to increased risk of heart disease

09 July 2017

Contracting shingles increases a person's risk of stroke and heart attack.

Contracting shingles increases a person's risk of stroke and heart attack, new research claims.

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is an infection of a nerve and the skin around it caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which also triggers chickenpox. It's estimated that around one in every four people will have at least one episode of shingles during their lifetime.

Now, in a research letter published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, it has been stated that shingles raise the risk of cardiovascular events including heart attacks and stroke by 41 percent.

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"While these findings require further study into the mechanism that causes shingles patients to have an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, it is important that physicians treating these patients make them aware of their increased risk," said study co-author Dr. Sung-Han Kim, a physician in the department of infectious diseases at Asan Medical Center in Seoul, South Korea.

Researchers used South Korea's National Health Insurance Service's database to identify patients with newly diagnosed shingles, stroke or heart attack. A total of 519,880 patients were followed from 2003-2013; during this period there were 23,233 cases of shingles.

The final cohort of 23,213 was matched with the same number of shingles-free patients to serve a control group.

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Accordingly, the academics found that the risk for stroke was highest in those under 40 years old, while the chances of both stroke and heart attack were highest the first year after the onset of shingles and decreased with time. However, these risks were evenly distributed in the shingles-free group.

Patients with shingles were more likely to be female and common risk factors for stroke and heart attacks such as old age, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol were also more commonly seen in these patients. However, this group was also less likely to smoke, have a lower alcohol intake, more exercise and be part of a higher socioeconomic class.

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