A new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association shows adults who have had shingles are 30% more likely to have stroke or coronary heart disease. The longitudinal study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA followed individuals for 16 years, and their observations further support previous links between shingles and heart disease. “Although some previous studies showed a higher risk of stroke or heart attack around the time of the shingles infection, it was not known whether this higher risk persisted in the long term,” says lead author Dr. Sharon E. Curhan, epidemiologist and physician at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Channing Division of Network Medicine. Here are five symptoms of shingles to be aware of, and the best method to protect against the viral infection. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
A red, blistering rash is the most recognizable symptom of shingles. If the rash breaks out on the face or scalp, it can cause headaches. “Researchers believe that the virus reactivates due to weakening of the immune system as we age,” says Arun K. Nagpaul, MD. “The virus may also reactivate when the immune system is weakened by stress, various ailments, or certain medications. The reactivated virus presents as the shingles rash that is painful scattered red lesions on the area of the skin that is associated with the infected nerve root. The rash, confined to the nerve roots near the skin’s surface, is the hallmark of shingles.”
The shingles virus can cause tingling or numbness. “Shingles painful blistering rash tends to occur on one side of the body confined as stated earlier to the distribution of a nerve root,” says Dr. Nagpaul. There may be numbness, tingling or even pain days prior to the eruption of the rash. The rash and discomfort usually resolve within weeks, but may persist longer. If the area involved includes the face or eyes, a consultation with an eye specialist may be warranted to ensure there is no risk to vision.”
Unexplained long-term fatigue could be a sign of shingles, experts say. “It’s more likely that whatever has been the trigger for your outbreak has made you tired,” says Shingles Support Society director Marion Nicholson. “For example, we often find that a person was unwell or overtired, or had an operation or even bereavement, and this stress or exhaustion occurred before shingles appears. The tiredness and general feelings of being unwell will most likely be gone within four weeks—at most, six weeks.”
Did you know shingles can cause nausea? ”This is typically one of the most common shingles symptoms that gets mistaken for something else,” according to Southeast Dermatology Specialists. “Most people can attribute nausea to something they ate or drank. Unfortunately, this symptom progresses to the point of being flu-like, though vomiting is a relatively uncommon result of this nausea. Instead, patients often report sharp stomach pains, diarrhea, and a general feeling of lasting queasiness. One important thing to note is that unlike the flu, nausea that precedes a shingles outbreak typically doesn’t come with a fever. This is a key differentiator in these two conditions.”
The best way to protect against shingles and shingles complications is to get vaccinated. The Shingrix vaccine is 97% effective for adults under 70 and 90% for those over 70. “Even If you had a mild form of chickenpox where you didn’t suffer from symptoms, you can develop shingles,” says Farvah Fatima, MD, a family medicine specialist at Henry Ford Health. “If you get two doses of the vaccine, spaced two months apart at age 50, you’re largely protected for life. You might still get shingles, but it will be a milder case than without vaccination.”