The herpes zoster virus, which causes chickenpox, can lead to shingles, a disease marked by a painful and blistery rash. (ISTOCKPHOTO)
The question

Shingles brings with it an intense pain that sometimes lasts long after the blistery rash has disappeared. Might this disease also carry risk for other health problems down the road?

This study

The researchers analyzed a decade of data on 46,426 adults, half of whom had developed shingles. Compared with those who had not had the disease, those who did have a shingles diagnosis were 59 percent more likely to have a heart attack, 35 percent more likely to have a stroke and 41 percent more likely to have both. The chances of having a heart attack or stroke were highest in the first year after the onset of shingles and declined gradually over time. The risk for stroke was highest among those 40 and younger.

Who may be affected?

People who develop shingles, a painful skin rash caused by the herpes zoster virus that caused chickenpox at some point in their life. The virus remains in the body, though dormant, until reactivated years later for reasons not entirely clear. One theory is that reactivation of the virus is related to a lowered immunity to infections, which may occur with age. Shingles, which occurs in 1 of every 3 people, is more common among older adults and people with weak immune systems. The only way to prevent shingles is with a vaccine, which is recommended for everyone 60 and older.

Caveats

The study did not determine the reason for the increased risk for heart attack and stroke.

Find this study

July 11 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (jacc.org; click on “View Full Section” under “Letters”)

Learn more

Information on shingles can be found at ninds.nih.gov/disorders (click on “Hope Through Research”) and mayoclinic.org.

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals.