To an adult who has had chickenpox at some point in his or her life, the idea of one day developing shingles is something they’d most certainly like to avoid. The virus that causes the excruciatingly painful skin rash is the same virus that took you out of school for a while during childhood. It remains dormant in your body from that time forward, until sometimes it eventually makes its way back into your life at an age that the younger you would have considered “old.”
The rash that comes with a shingles episode, however, may be the least of your worries as a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology may show a possible link between shingles and heart attacks and strokes.
The study followed a decade’s worth of medical records for 23,000 South Koreans who had developed shingles. As a control group, the researchers also selected approximately 23,000 records of those who had never developed the condition. The numbers showed a 59 percent higher risk of heart attack and a 35 percent higher risk of stroke for those that had suffered shingles at some point versus those that had not. Those under 40 were at highest risk of stroke while the risks for both conditions appeared to be highest within the first year of developing shingles symptoms.
Even in the face of such strong numbers, the study does not go so far as to prove causation. Instead, the numbers indicate that further research should be conducted to determine whether such a link can be demonstrated yet again or if the South Korean numbers are indicative of something else entirely.
The study showed that those who had developed shingles were more likely to have been women and were already at higher risk of heart attack and stroke because of old age, high blood pressure, diabetes, and elevated cholesterol levels. At the same time, these women were also predominantly non-smokers, didn’t drink as much as the control group, got more exercise, and were better off financially that their control group counterparts.
Approximately one in three Americans will face shingles at some point in their adult lives. Knowing that there is even a slight risk of the condition leading to other complications could help them take their own risk factors into account when the time comes.