Can Shingles Boost Heart Attack Risk?

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People who have had shingles may face a heightened risk of heart attack, a large study now suggests. Shingles is a painful rash caused by a reactivation of the chicken pox virus, which remains dormant in the body after the initial infection. While most of the time it is not known why the virus wakes up,” advancing age and a suppressed immune system are two known causes.

The new study, published in 2017 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, examined medical records from nearly 520,000 Korean adults. Over 10 years, 4 percent of these individuals developed shingles. On average, those who developed shingles were 59 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those who were shingles-free-even when factors such as age, weight, smoking, and overall health were taken into account. The risk was greatest in the year after an individual developed shingles.

Some caveats: The absolute risk was small; in the group with shingles, there was less than one additional heart attack per 1,000 people each year. And the findings do not prove that shingles was to blame. It’s not clear how shingles could contribute to heart attack risk, but one possibility is that reactivation of the chicken pox virus causes inflammation in the blood vessels.