New research reveals that getting shingles may increase your risk of having a heart attack, stroke or other heart problems by as much as 40 percent.
That’s the upshot shot of a new warning by scientists at Asan Medical Center in Seoul, South Korean, who found the shingles virus may actually move through the skin and directly attack and inflame blood vessels, as well as certain nerves.
Shingles, a very painful skin rash affects over 200,000 Americans each year. It’s caused by the varicella zoster virus, also called herpes zoster, and is most common in older adults and people with weak immune systems.
The condition occurs when the same virus that causes chicken pox rises up again after lying dormant. In some people it remains dormant while for others the virus wakes up when stress, aging, or disease weakens the immune system. When the virus filters into the skin and inflames the blood vessels, it sets the stage for a heart attack or stroke.
Study author Dr. Sung-Han Kim analyzed the medical records of 23,000 shingles patients and compared them to the same number of patients who didn’t get shingles.
He found that overall, having shingles was associated with a 41 percent increased risk of any heart related problems, a 35 percent increased risk of stroke, and a whopping 59 percent increased risk of heart attack.
Dr. Nicholas Solomos, a family medicine physician from Kelsey-Seybold Clinic in Houston, Texas tells Newsmax Health that he is aware of the shingles connection to heart disease.
“There was a previous study of 65,000 seniors with newly diagnosed shingles. Their risk of stroke doubled in the first week after a shingles outbreak. The risk of heart attack also increased, but not as much,” he says.
“The risk appeared to return to normal within six months. It appears that the inflammatory response by the body caused by the viral infection may damage the blood vessel wall triggering clot formation and lead to elevated risk of these cardiovascular events.”
Solomos recommends that all children receive the chicken pox vaccine and if there are no contraindications, adults should also get the shingles vaccine that has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for those over the age of 50.
Dr. Talia Swartz, an assistant professor of infectious diseases at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City says that in the U.S., the study findings may not be as dramatic since so many Americans have been vaccinated for chicken pox as children.
But she adds that the shingles vaccine not only helps prevent the condition in people over the age of 60 it may prevent a recurrence in those who have already had shingles, so even people who have had shingles should consider getting vaccinated.
Dr. Pat Salber, a former ER physician and who now runs the popular website www.thedoctorweighsin.com, tells Newsmax Health:
“We have known for some time that inflammation of blood vessels is related to the formation of blood clots in the vessels, and it’s those blood clots that cause most heart attacks and strokes. So it would not be surprising that there could be a relationship between inflammation of blood vessels caused by the shingles virus and an increased incidence of stroke and heart attacks.
“However the study did not portray a clear case that the shingle virus actually caused heart attacks and strokes which is an important point to remember. That being said, some people who get shingles develop a very painful condition called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). The vaccine does reduce the risk of getting shingles by 51 percent and PHN by 67 percent, so I would agree with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that all adults 60 or over get vaccinated for shingles.”