Cropped shot of senior man holding his chest and feeling pain suffering from heart attack outdoor at the park

Shingles, a disease found mainly among older adults, is tied to 30% long-term odds of major cardiovascular events, a new study finds.

Researchers followed data from three large cohort studies of nurses and other healthcare professionals for up to 16 years. They tracked incidence of shingles (also called herpes zoster), stroke and coronary heart disease. 

People who had experienced a prior bout with shingles were at significantly higher long-term risk of a major cardiovascular event compared with their peers who had not had shingles, reported Sharon Curhan, MD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital. What’s more, the elevated risk may persist for 12 years or more, she and her colleagues noted.

Prevention needed

Much of the study took place before the shingles vaccines became widely available. When the shots were introduced, uptake was low, leaving researchers unable to consider vaccination as a factor in cardiovascular risk. But the findings show that vaccination provides needed protection, they said.

“Our findings suggest there are long-term implications of shingles and highlight the importance of public health efforts for prevention,” Curhan said. “[S]hingles vaccination could provide a valuable opportunity to reduce the burden of shingles and reduce the risk of subsequent cardiovascular complications.”

Dormant and debilitating

Almost all people aged 50 years and older in the United States have been exposed to chickenpox, leaving them vulnerable to developing shingles. The chickenpox virus lies dormant in the body after infection and may reactivate in later life as shingles.

Shingles can cause a painful and sometimes debilitating rash, the effects of which can last for months in severe cases.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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