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  • Shingles and the Raised Risk of Heart Attack

    Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyers discuss shingles raising the risk of a heart attack. A new medical study has found that people with shingles are more likely to be at risk for cardiac events, such as a heart attacks or strokes. Recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the study involved more than 519,000 individuals and determined that those with shingles had a marked, higher risk for potentially fatal health events.

    Shingles is also known as the herpes zoster and is a painful skin rash. Caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, the infection affects a single nerve in the body and the skin that runs along the surface of that nerve. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that every 1 out of 3 Americans will get shingles in his or her lifetime and that there are roughly 1 million new cases diagnosed in the country every year.

    According to CDC data, people over 60-years-old are at a higher risk for contracting shingles although children and younger adults can get it as well. Anyone who had chickenpox can later contract shingles. Common signs and symptoms of the herpes zoster include upset stomach, pain, itching, or tingling of the skin followed by a painful rash and blister-like sores that are typically on one side of the body, torso or face, headache, fever and chills.

    Shingles occurs most frequently in people with compromised immune systems. Your chances of getting shingles may be higher if you:

    • Have AIDS, cancer, or any other kind of disease that weakens the immune system;
    • Have a lot of stress;
    • Experience physical trauma; and
    • Take long-term steroids or other medications linked to weakening the immune system.

    The study’s researchers found that individuals with shingles were 35% more likely to have a stroke and as much as 59% more likely to experience a heart attack. Data also determined that participants under 40-years-old were at a higher risk than researchers had expected the relatively young age group to be. People were most likely to heart events within one-year of having shingles; over time, researchers observed a decline.

    Exactly how and why shingles affects a person’s heart health is not completely understood by researchers and cardiologists alike. Some believe that when people experience a major illness like shingles, their body becomes more vulnerable in general to cardiovascular issues and events. In respect to the study’s participants, they had a 41% overall increase in risk for a cardiovascular event because they contracted the shingles virus.

    One major way to prevent this increased risk of heart attack that researchers have now linked to shingles is to get the vaccination. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licensed Zostavax, an effective herpes zoster vaccine, in 2006. The CDC recommends that individual’s age 60 and older get the vaccine whether or not they remember having chickenpox. Although the FDA approved the vaccine for people age 50 and older, the CDC’s recommendations only apply to people over 60-years-old. To read more about who should get the vaccine and why, please visit: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/shingles/public/index.html. If you think you may be interested in getting the shingles vaccine, have a conversation about its risks and benefits with your doctor directly.

    If you think that you may have shingles, it is important to see a doctor to receive the appropriate medical treatment. Depending on what stage the virus is in, it may or may not be contagious to others through contact with the fluid present inside rash blisters. The CDC recommends that people with an active shingles virus be sure to:

    • Cover any areas where the rash is present;
    • Wash hands often to avoid spreading the virus to others;
    • Avoid contact with people (e.g. premature or low birth weight infants, pregnant women who haven’t had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine, and people with weakened immune systems) until the rash has developed crusts; and
    • Avoid touching, scratching or picking at the rash.

    To read more about how to treat and prevent shingles, please visit: https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/prevention-treatment.html.

    Because of the data his team put together, the study’s lead author believes it’s crucial for doctors to tell their patients about their increased risk of heart attack, stroke and other types of cardiovascular event as a result of having shingles. This way, doctors and patients can figure out the best plan of attack to lower overall risk factors and can take extra precautions when a patient has the shingles virus. Other common tips for remaining – or working towards – being “heart healthy” are:

    • Maintain a healthy weight or discuss weight loss options with a medical health professional;
    • Don’t smoke tobacco products;
    • Eat a healthy diet;
    • Reduce blood sugar levels;
    • Be physically active;
    • Control cholesterol levels; and
    • Manage blood pressure.

    Make sure you talk with your doctor about your heart health and what lifestyle or dietary changes may be best for you.

    Other researchers and cardiologists in the field have similar advice for doctors: it’s important to discuss the herpes zoster, or shingles virus, with patients – especially those at a higher risk due to immune issues, age or other health concerns. Responsible doctors should aim to increase awareness, initiate educational campaigns and make sure their patients know that the shingles vaccination is available and discuss whether or not getting the vaccine is the right medical decision for them.

    Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP Representing Injured Individuals Since 1947

    If you believe you experienced a heart attack because you have shingles or received negligent medical care, please contact our Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers at Galfand Berger. With offices located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Reading and Lancaster, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.