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Is shingles tied to heart, stroke risk?

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Shingles may be tied to an increased risk for heart disease, a new study suggests.

About one-third of Americans will develop shingles in their lifetime. The painful skin rash can occur in anyone who's had chickenpox, and the risk increases with age.

The new study looked at 2003-2013 medical records for more than 23,000 people in South Korea who had shingles. The researchers also reviewed data on a similar number of people without shingles. They found the shingles group had a 59 percent higher risk of heart attack and a 35 percent higher risk of stroke than the others.

Stroke risk was highest among those under 40. The risks of both stroke and heart attack were highest the first year after the onset of shingles and decreased with time, according to the study.

The results appear in a research letter published July 3 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The study can't prove that reactivation of the chickenpox virus raised heart attack and stroke risk. Still, the findings suggest a need for further research into this association, the researchers said.

Also, "it is important that physicians treating these patients make them aware of their increased risk," study author Dr. Sung-Han Kim said in a journal news release. Kim is a physician in infectious diseases at the Asan Medical Center in Seoul.

Patients with shingles were more likely to be female and to have risk factors for stroke and heart attack, such as old age, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, the study found. However, they were less likely to smoke, drank less alcohol, exercised more and were wealthier.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on shingles.

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