Shingles increase risk of stroke and heart attack

Patients who suffer from shingles are more likely to have a stroke or heart attack in later life, according to new research.

A study of almost 320,000 people has shown that the link appears to be especially pronounced in people who had shingles between the ages of 18 and 40 years old.

Those who suffered from the viral infection under the age of 40 had a 74 per cent greater chance of a stroke and 50 per cent greater risk of heart attack.

Shingles also increased the risk of transient ischemic attacks – sometimes called a “mini-stroke” – by 2.4 times compared to those who had not had the infection.

In patients over the age of 40, shingles increased the risk of heart attack by 10 per cent.

However, the numbers of those affected were low, with just 0.21 per cent of those taking part in the study who had shingles suffering a stroke.

The study was also not able to establish whether there was a direct cause for strokes or heart attacks by shingles.

Dr Judith Breuer, a virologist at University College London who led the study, said patients suffering from shingles should, however, be monitored more closely for their risk of stroke.

She added that further work was needed to see whether vaccinating against shingles could reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke in patients.

She said: “Anyone with shingles, and especially younger people, should be screened for stroke risk factors.

“The shingles vaccine has been shown to reduce the number of cases of shingles by about 50 per cent.

“Studies are needed to determine whether vaccination can also reduce the incidence of stroke and heart attack.

“However, what is also clear is that factors that increase the risk of stroke also increase the risk of shingles, so we do not know if vaccinating people can reduce the risk of stroke per se.

“Current recommendations are that anyone 60 years and older should be vaccinated. The role for vaccination in younger individuals with vascular risk factors needs to be determined.”

Shingles is caused by the chickenpox virus which can remain dormant inside the roots of nerve cells.

Years after recovering from chickenpox it can resurface and cause the condition, causing a rash that is painful to touch.

It often strikes those who are suffering from high levels of stress or have been suffering from other illnesses that suppress the immune system.

Dr Breuer and her colleagues, whose findings are published in the journal Neurology, studied data from 106,000 patients with shingles and 213,200 non sufferers.

They followed their patient records for an average of six years, and in some cases up to 24 years, after suffering with shingles.

A total of 40 people with shingles went on to experience a stroke, compared to 45 of those who had not had the condition.

Around 250,000 people a year suffer from shingles in Britain. The findings of the latest study mirror those of a smaller one from 2009.