What Shingles Could Mean for Your Heart

Shingles may increase risk of cardiovascular events such as stroke or heart attack

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Cases of shingles have been rising in recent years, even among younger individuals. And the disease may be increasing other health risks as well.

A recent study found that those who have had shingles may have an increased risk of stroke or heart attack.

Shingles is the common name for the infectious disease caused by the herpes zoster virus. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox, and those who have had chickenpox are at higher risk for shingles.

A vaccine is available that can reduce a person's risk of contracting shingles.

"Ask your doctor about the shingles vaccine."

This study, led by Judith Breuer, MD, of the Division of Infection and Immunity at University College London in the United Kingdom, looked for links between shingles and cardiovascular events.

These researchers compared a group of 106,601 individuals who had shingles to 213,202 individuals who did not have shingles.

The individuals were matched to one another based on having the same age, sex and primary care practice (attending the same doctor's office or clinic).

The researchers looked at how many participants in each group experienced a stroke, heart attack or transient ischemic attack (TIA, a mini-stroke).

Some individuals were followed up to 24 years, but the median follow-up was six years, so half were followed longer than six years and half were followed for a shorter period.

The comparison findings were adjusted to account for differences among the participants' risk factors for a cardiovascular event, including their weight, cholesterol levels and medical history.

The medical history factors included whether the participants smoked or had high blood pressure, diabetes, ischemic heart disease, atrial fibrillation, vascular heart disease or a couple other cardiovascular problems.

The researchers found that these risk factors for vascular disease were more common among the participants who had shingles than among those who hadn't had shingles.

But even after making adjustments to remove the influence of risk factors, those who had shingles were 15 percent more likely to experience a mini-stroke, compared to those who didn't have shingles.

The participants who had shingles also had a 10 percent greater risk of a heart attack than those who hadn't had shingles.

When the researchers looked at sub-groups of the participants, they found a pattern related to age as well.

Those who had had shingles when they were younger than 40 years old had considerably greater risk of stroke, TIA and heart attack than those who never had shingles.

The participants who had shingles before age 40 were 2.4 times more likely to have a stroke, 1.5 times more likely to have a mini-stroke and 1.7 times more likely to have a heart attack than those who never had shingles.

However, the researchers also noted that the younger participants were less likely to have been asked about their cardiovascular risk factors.

Therefore, the lower rate of stroke in those with shingles who had been older may be the result of preventive care that identified risk factors sooner, the researchers wrote.

This study was published January 2 in the journal Neurology.

The research was funded by Sanofi Pasteur MSD. One author has received past funding from Sanofi Pasteur MSD, and another has done work for GlaxoSmithKline.

No other authors reported potential conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
January 2, 2014
Last Updated:
January 6, 2014