Shingles Raises Heart Attack, Stroke Risks

First Posted: Jul 06, 2017 05:14 AM EDT

Shingles, which are seen as itchy rashes on the skin, may come with health consequences that are far more complicated. A new study showed that it could be an indicator of heart problems, too.

A new research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology showed that people who developed shingles (also known as herpes zoster) have nearly 60 percent higher risk of heart attack and 35 percent higher risk of stroke than those who did not have the disease. The risks are said to be its highest in the first year after experiencing shingles. Threat of a stroke is highest for those who are under 40.

It is not clear why shingles could impact the heart, but Dr. Mary Norine Walsh, president of the American College of Cardiology, said that the link is not direct, either.

"We see an increased incidence in cardiovascular events after any kind of major health issue. It's kind of in that realm, being ill in one way predisposes you for cardiovascular events in a broad sense," Dr. Walsh told Today. She also said that having shingles shows a slight decrease in the immune system, which could be the reason for higher stroke rates.

In the study, researchers were able to analyze over 500,000 people who underwent a medical check-up in South Korea. Of all the subjects, over 23,000 were diagnosed with shingles. Those affected by the disease were more likely to be females with high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. However, they were also noted to smoke and drink alcohol less and exercise more.

About one in every three Americans can develop shingles, which is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox (thus making it a kind of "resurgence" of the childhood disease). The main symptom associated with shingles includes a painful rash that develops on one side of the face or body, which can then develop to blisters that scabs about a week later.

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