Shingles? An increased risk of heart attack or stroke!

Shingles is a nasty virus. It can cause a lot of pain to the skin and joints. You are at increased risk of a heart attack or stroke after shingles. This is evident from recent Korean research. In this article I explain who can get it, what you should take into account and what you can do about it.


Chickenpox Virus

Chickenpox virus


Among other things, tingling, feverish, red blisters on skin, burning pain



Increased risk of heart attack or stroke

Anyone who has chickenpox can get shingles

Shingles is a viral infection. Anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk of developing shingles later. Even if you have been vaccinated, the chance is small. Both conditions are caused by the varicella-zoster virus.

The chickenpox virus remains present

After chickenpox, this virus remains present and withdraws into sensory nerve cells in the body. Particularly in the torso, neck, shoulder and arm. But also in the cranial nerves.

Two in 10 who had chickenpox will develop shingles

More than two in 10 people who have had chickenpox will develop shingles at some point. In principle, shingles can occur several times in a person, but this is rare.

Risk of shingles grows with age

As we age, the cell repair mechanism slows down. The network of elastin and collagen begins to disintegrate. This can cause the virus to become active again and cause shingles. Most people who get shingles are over 50 years old.

The risk of shingles increases with age. This is due to the weakening of our immune system, a natural process. Things that further weaken the immune system can activate and multiply the virus. Consider extreme stress, certain medications or chemotherapy.

Where on your body can you get a shingles infection?

The virus reaches the skin via nerve pathways. It is then located on one side of the body, so-called ‘dermatoma’. With a serious immune disorder (such as leukemia or AIDS), a shingles infection is not limited to one area. It then spreads to several parts of the body. The trunk is particularly often affected, followed by the arms. In 15% of people with shingles it is in the face. Other areas are torso and arms.

Highly contagious as long as there are blisters

Shingles is very bothersome and contagious as long as open wounds and blisters are present. Newborn babies and patients with a seriously disturbed immune system are particularly susceptible to infection. People who have never had chickenpox before are also more susceptible.

First feverish and skin tingling

Just before a shingles infection, you may feel tired and feverish. You may also experience tingling in the skin.

Then burning pain and red blisters

Two to three days later there is severe, stabbing or burning pain.
Grouped red blisters also develop on the affected part of the body. This phase lasts a maximum of 5 days. The blisters then dry out in two to 10 days.

Sometimes the after-pain lasts for a year

The most annoying after-effect of a shingles infection is pain. The nerves that register pain, pressure and sensation are damaged by the virus. In 49 studies showed a variation of 5 to more than 30% post-pain. In people over the age of 70, 28% develop chronic pain after an acute shingles phase. In 30-50%, the after-pain lasts a year or longer.

Increased risk
after a shingles infection

35% of stroke

59% on heart attack

Greatest chance after 3-12 months

There is an increased risk of heart attack or stroke after a shingles infection. A recent Korean study has shown this. Patients with a shingles infection have a 35% increased risk of stroke. And they have a 59% increased risk of heart attack. The risk of stroke was highest in patients younger than 40 years. An explanation for these findings is unclear.

Greatest risk of heart and cerebral infarction after 3 to 12 months

According to a systematic review, the risk of a heart or brain attack is greatest after 3 to 12 months. The chance of a heart attack during this period is 10-30% and of a cerebral infarction 20-40%.

More research needed

Another systematic review and meta-analysis weakened it slightly. It suggests that shingles does indeed affect blood flow to the heart and brain. But the size of the effect is small. In addition, the quality of evidence would be limited.

This may be because the studies were done in different countries. Several people also participated. Other factors may also have influenced the study.

So there may be a link between shingles and cardiovascular disease. More research is needed to know for sure.

To the doctor

Do you fall into the risk groups:

  • Diabetes
  • Elevated cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoker

Then it makes sense to have a general body check with your doctor. And of course also in case of complaints.

What can you do about it?

In healthy people, shingles will heal on its own. Without medication it disappears within about 1 month.


Anti-itch agents


Anti-viral drugs for serious complaints


For risk groups, in case of pain or persistent complaints: go to the doctor

Anti-itch agents

There are options to relieve the itching and dry out the blisters. Antiseptic or anti-itch lotions, gels and powders are often used for this purpose. Most contain zinc, tanins, menthol or polidocanol.

Dr. Francis Wu developed the Calming Cream for Iconic Elements. It supports the skin’s restorative capacity.

If blisters have already formed, wrapping with cooled bandages is sometimes advised. But there is no good scientific research on how well these treatments work.

In case of serious complaints: anti-viral drugs

Pain and fever can be resolved with medications such as paracetamol or aspirin. There may be serious shingles: on the face, near the eye or a serious immune disorder. In that case, antiviral drugs such as aciclovir, valacyclovir or famciclovir are useful.

The antiviral drugs must be started within a week of the first symptoms. After that it doesn’t help much anymore. In case of pain complaints, it is advisable to consult a general practitioner, anesthesiologist or neurologist.

How can Iconic Elements help you?

Iconic Elements Calming Cream can help with itching complaints. This is due to the special ingredients such as Avena Sativa (oat extract), ectoine and marshmallow root (marshmallow root) contained in it. This combination of natural substances is known to soothe the skin and provide relief from itching.

Final thoughts

Shingles is a nasty virus that can cause unpleasant symptoms. Fortunately, in most cases it heals on its own within one month and there are resources available to reduce the symptoms.

Be aware of the additional risks after a shingles infection and, if in doubt, consult your doctor. This can refer you to a specialist if necessary.

Imagery by Freepik

Picture of Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu, een vooraanstaande dermatoloog, is de drijvende kracht achter Iconic Elements. Hij heeft sinds 2004 zijn expertise ingezet om een veilige en effectieve huidverzorgingslijn te creëren, geschikt voor zowel gezonde huid als huidproblemen. Iconic Elements, opgericht in 2016, is de eerste brede skincare lijn in Nederland ontwikkeld door een dermatoloog. Als medisch specialist streeft Dr. Wu naar het bevorderen van het welzijn van mensen door hoogwaardige en effectieve huidverzorgingsproducten te bieden. De proefdiervrije en vegan producten vermijden schadelijke chemicaliën en bevatten natuurlijke ingrediënten.
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