A new study shows that shingles, also known as zoster or herpes zoster can lead to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. The study findings were published in a research letter that appeared in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person has had chickenpox and recovers, the varicella zoster virus (VZV) stays in their body, in a dormant state. Later in life, for reasons researchers do not fully understand, the virus can become active, causing the individual to develop shingles.
People who develop shingles typically experience pain, tingling, and itching in specific areas. Within 1 to 5 days, a rash will appear. The rash will blister and will usually scab over in 7 to 10 days and then clear up within 2 to 4 weeks. Other symptoms common with shingles include an upset stomach, headache, fever, and chills.
In the United States alone, it is estimated that there are 1 million cases of shingles diagnosed each year. Approximately one in every three people within the U.S. will develop shingles at some point in their life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As people age, the risk of developing shingles increases, with nearly half of the annual cases reported hitting men and women who are 60 years of age or older.
For the new study, South Korean researchers used the medical checkup database from the National Health Insurance Service along with International Classification of Disease-10 diagnostic codes as a way to identify patients who had been diagnosed with shingles, heart attack, or stroke. Between the years 2003-2013, the number of patients followed totaled 519,880, of which 23,233 had shingles. Those 23,233 patients were then matched with an equal number of patients who did not develop shingles, which served as the control group.
Researchers found that patients who developed shingles were more likely to be women. In addition, they determined that these patients also had common risk factors for heart attack and stroke such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and old age. However, these patients exercised more often, were part of a higher socioeconomic class, consumed less alcohol, and were less likely to smoke.
Study findings revealed that shingles increased the risk of cardiovascular events. The risk of suffering a heart attack and stoke increased by 41 percent, the risk of heart attack increased by 59 percent and the risk of stroke by 35 percent. Risks were highest for suffering a heart attack or stroke the first year after developing shingles, with the risk decreasing over time. People under the age of 40 with fewer atherosclerosis risks were at the highest risk of suffering a stroke.
Sung-Han Kim, PhD, an author of the study and physician with the Asan Medical Center in Seoul, Korea, said these findings require further study and analysis to determine why people who develop shingles in turn have an increased risk for suffering a heart attack or stroke. With that being said, however, the doctor added that it is important for attending physicians to alert shingles patients to the increased risk.
By Trixie Dillwood