Can shingles raise your risk for heart attack and stroke?

Research we're watching

A research letter published in the July 3 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology says that shingles, a painful rash caused by the varicella-zoster virus (the same virus that causes chickenpox) may be linked to an increased risk of stroke and heart attack.

South Korean researchers used a national medical database to identify diagnoses of shingles, stroke, and heart attack and followed them from 2003 to 2013. They compared 23,213 individuals who had developed shingles during this period and compared their subsequent rates of heart attack and stroke to approximately 23,213 shingles-free individuals. They found that people who had shingles had a 35% higher risk of heart attack and a 59% higher risk of stroke.

The stroke risk was highest among people who had shingles before they turned 40. Researchers found that the risk of a heart attack or stroke was highest in the year after the person had shingles and dropped off slowly over time.

"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," according to Dr. Sung-Han Kim, the study's lead researcher.