How Shingles Can Impact Your Cardiovascular Health Years Later

One out of every three people will get shingles in their lifetime. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), having chickenpox increases your risk of shingles. If you were born before 1980, you were more than likely exposed to the virus that causes chickenpox. Although the rash associated with shingles goes away about four weeks later, a recent study in the Journal of the American Heart Association says having shingles can increase your risk of heart disease or stroke for 12 years or more.

The study followed the medical history of more than 200,000 people for about 16 years. People who had shingles had a 30% higher risk of stroke or heart disease than those who were free of shingles. People with compromised immune systems had a greater risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Dr. Stephen Kopecky tells Mayo Clinic that "Anything that increases inflammation in your body increases your risk for heart attack. It could be an infection caused by a virus such as shingles or the flu, or by bacteria, such as a bladder infection." The resulting inflammation from shingles is likely to result in the long term increase in cardiovascular distress.

The CDC recommends two doses of the shingles vaccine for anyone over 50 or immunocompromised people over 19. People who were vaccinated for chickenpox can still get shingles later in life, but it's less likely than people who had chickenpox (via Immunize British Columbia).

How you can get shingles

According to WebMD, the virus that causes chickenpox lies dormant in the nerves. As we get older and our immune systems weaken, the virus becomes active again as shingles. The CDC says that fever, headache, chills, and an upset stomach often accompany the shingles rash. Sometimes the rash develops around the eye and can result in blindness.

Although shingles lasts for two to four weeks, long-term nerve pain can occur for several months in about 10% to 18% of people who get shingles. The nerve pain can be debilitating enough to interrupt the quality of life. Shingles can also lead to pneumonia, hearing problems, brain inflammation, or death.

Even if you already had shingles, you can get it again. The fluid from the shingles rash can transmit the virus to people who've never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine. However, they're likely to get chickenpox, not shingles. They could still get shingles later if they don't get the shingles vaccine (via the CDC).