Having Shingles Raises Stroke Risk

You wouldn't necessarily connect a painful skin rash known as shingles, or herpes zoster, with cardiovascular trouble, but a new study confirms that there is, in fact, such a link. Apparently, contracting shingles raises your risk of having a stroke, often shortly after shingles treatment.

How great is the risk of stroke after shingles? More than 30 percent higher than if you never had shingles, according to the study. In the study, conducted at Taipei Medical University Hospital in Taiwan, data on 7,760 patients who received treatment for shingles between 1997 and 2001 was looked at. During the one year following their treatment for shingles, 1.7 percent of the patients suffered an ischemic stroke (meaning the blood supply to the brain becomes blocked due to a clot) versus 1.3 percent of the control group of patients that was studied alongside them. In addition, people with shingles were 2.79 times more likely to suffer a hemorrhagic stroke (which occurs when a blood vessel bursts, leading to bleeding in the brain).

Is the increased risk of stroke after shingles due to extra inflammation in the body? The exact mechanism by which shingles raises the risk of stroke is unknown, according to Daniel Lackland, DrPH, a professor at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, who notes that shingles sometimes causes other complications as well. "This is certainly a sign that if a patient does contract shingles, [they need to be] extra careful." Of concern are patients who already have hypertension and diabetes, which are known stroke risk factors.

Shingles, which is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, often begins with a tingling or burning sensation in the skin. After a few days, fluid-filled blisters begin to appear. If you notice any odd rashes, blisters or itching on your body, see a doctor. Shingles can be successfully treated with antiviral drugs, but it can be quite dangerous in people whose immune systems are already compromised. Adults with shingles also can transmit the virus to children, who will contract chickenpox if they have never had it before.


Dr. Daniel Lackland, Medical University of South Carolina

American Heart Association, www.americanheart.org.