Shingles linked to higher risks for stroke, heart attack

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Shingles often causes a painful rash and can occur anywhere on the head or body. Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox.

In a study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, scientists found that shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is linked to an almost 30% higher long-term risk of a major cardiovascular event such a stroke or heart attack.

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 heart complications.

After a person has chickenpox, the virus stays in their body for the rest of their life. Years and even decades later, the virus may reactivate as shingles.

Almost all individuals aged 50 years and older in the US have been infected with the chicken pox virus and are therefore at risk for shingles.

Approximately 1 in 3 individuals will develop shingles in their lifetime, with more cases projected as the population ages and more people have compromised immunity due to disease or medication use.

The most common complication from shingles is postherpetic neuralgia. This condition affects nerve fibers and skin, causing burning pain that lasts long after the rash and blisters of shingles disappear.

However, a growing body of evidence suggests that reactivation of the virus may have even longer lasting side effects.

The virus may play a role in the development of heart disorders, including stroke and coronary artery disease.

The virus has been detected in large and small blood vessels, which overtime can cause inflammation as well as chronic vascular changes.

These changes can increase the risk of blockages in the blood vessels, restricted blood flow, and cardiovascular events such as strokes and heart attacks.

In the study, the team collected information on shingles, stroke and coronary heart disease using questionnaires.

The team followed the participants for up to 16 years and evaluated whether those who had developed shingles were at higher risk for stroke or coronary heart disease years after the shingles episode.

The results showed that people who had previously developed shingles were at 30% higher long-term risk of a major heart event compared with those who had not had shingles, and the elevated risk may persist for 12 years or more after having shingles.

The team says as more people choose to receive the shingles vaccine, future studies could examine whether vaccination influences the relation of shingles and risk of cardiovascular disease.

If you care about stroke, please read studies that diets high in flavonoids could help reduce stroke risk, and MIND diet could slow down cognitive decline after stroke.

For more information about nutrition, please see recent studies about how Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and  coffee could help lower your risk of stroke and dementia.

The study was conducted by Sharon Curhan et al and published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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