WASHINGTON - As if having shingles isn't painful enough, new research suggests the herpes zoster virus can increase one's risk for a heart attack and other vascular complications -- especially in younger populations.
According to the Mayo Clinic, shingles is a virus that is typically diagnosed with pain on one side of the body, as well as a rash or blisters that typically appear on the torso. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox.
After one has chicken pox, the virus can lie dormant for years and eventually reactivate as shingles, according to Mayo Clinic.
A British retrospective cohort study, published in Neurology, followed 106,601 shingles cases and 213,202 controls for an average of 6.3 years after the subjects experienced shingles.
After adjusting the subjects for vascular risk factors -- such as body mass index, smoking, cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes -- researchers found that having shingles increased the risk of a heart attack and transient ischemic attack, or "mini stroke."
The risks for stroke were not increased for the general patient population studied.
However, the risk for stroke, heart attack and mini stroke increased in patients who had shingles and were under the age of 40 -- a population that is generally less likely to have shingles.
In fact, according to Mayo Clinic, shingles is most common in people older than 50.
Researchers on the study say the surprising increased risk for stroke, heart attack and mini stroke in the younger population may be due to a better understanding of vascular risk factors and early interventions in older populations.
A person with shingles can pass the virus via direct contact to anyone who isn't immune to chicken pox. There is no cure for shingles, but antiviral drugs can help speed along healing.
© 2014 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.