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Shingles tied to an Increased Risk of Stroke, Heart Attack for Seniors, Study Says

Update Date: Dec 16, 2015 09:36 AM EST

Shingles can temporarily increase risk of stroke and heart attack in older individuals.

"The study highlights when patients with shingles may be most vulnerable," study author Caroline Minassian, a research fellow in the faculty of epidemiology and population health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in England, said reported by HealthDay. "If we know when these events are more likely to happen, this may potentially help to prevent strokes and heart attacks in older people."

In this study, the researchers examined data on the heart health of more than 67,000 U.S. Medicare patients who were diagnosed with shingles, which occurs when the chickenpox virus reactivates in the body and causes an extremely painful rash. The patients were all 65-years-old or older and had experienced either a stroke or heart attack.

The researchers found that within the first week after being diagnosed with shingles, patients' risk of stroke spiked by 50 percent. Risk of heart disease also increased but by a smaller margin. These risks, however, fell back to normal within six months.

The researchers provided two explanations as to why the risks of stroke and heart attack increased. The first reason could be that the virus might be causing fat to build up inside the arteries. If the fat buildups break off the walls of the arteries, it can lead to a stroke or heart attack. The other explanation is that pain from shingles can be increasing stress levels, which in turns, increases blood pressure. High blood pressure is a risk factor for stroke and heart attack.

The researchers are not sure if people who were vaccinated against chicken pox have the same increased risks after being diagnosed with shingles.

According to the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorder, about one million people in America get diagnosed with shingles every year. Everyone who has ever gotten chicken pox (varicella zoster) can develop shingles.

The study's findings were published in the journal, PLOS Medicine.

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