Chickenpox is a normally harmless infection that occurs in childhood and resolves within about 10 days. However, the virus that causes chickenpox (varicella zoster) remains in the body long-term, in a dormant state. Sometimes the virus reactivates later in life, causing an infection known as shingles.
While shingles is characterized by red blisters that appear all over the body, it can cause other symptoms as well, including chest pain. And it may put your heart health at risk.
Cardiovascular physician Majed Chane, MD, and the team at CA Heart and Vein Specialists want to increase awareness of the connection between shingles and chest pain. In this post, we explain why you may experience chest pain during a shingles outbreak, and how shingles may affect heart health.
Common shingles symptoms
Shingles is most commonly associated with an itchy, painful rash. The virus can cause a host of other symptoms as well, including:
- Body aches
- Swollen glands
- Muscle weakness
- Stomach upset
People usually only experience shingles once, and it typically lasts 3-5 weeks.
Shingles-related neuralgia may cause chest pain
When people think of a shingles infection, chest pain likely isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, but this viral infection can affect nerves in your chest, resulting in chest pain. Neuralgia describes pain related to an irritated nerve, and it’s often the first symptom of a shingles outbreak.
When the nerves of the chest are irritated by the virus, the immune system releases inflammatory proteins. You may experience a variety of sensations including sharp chest pain, tingling, pricking, and a pins-and-needles sensation. This symptom often precedes the painful rash that is characteristic of the infection.
Shingles tends to occur in people over age 60 as a result of a decrease in immunity that enables reactivation of the virus.
Shingles increases heart attack and stroke risk
There’s another reason to feel concerned about shingles-related chest pain. Researchers have found a possible link between shingles and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. A 10-year study indicated that older adults who experience shingles are about twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke following an outbreak.
As of now, scientists haven’t pinned down exactly how reactivation of the varicella zoster virus doubles the risk of heart attack and stroke in older adults, so it’s crucial to take every precaution possible.
Protecting your heart health after a shingles outbreak
Whether or not you have an existing cardiovascular condition, working with a cardiovascular physician is a wise step to take if you experience a shingles outbreak. Dr. Chane can evaluate and monitor your heart health closely during and after your shingles outbreak to reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Your care plan may involve prescribing blood-thinning medication, conducting a cardiac stress test to check for blockages, and managing risk factors like high cholesterol. Because chest pain could be a sign of a heart attack, it’s vital to seek immediate medical attention if you have this symptom after a shingles outbreak.
In some people, shingles can cause a condition known as postherpetic neuralgia (PN). In PN, the reactivated virus triggers immune mechanisms that can lead to chronic pain. This can cause bouts of sudden pain in the chest, neck, shoulder, or other areas.
Awareness of the heart health risks of a shingles outbreak can help you take proactive steps to protect your heart. With the help of a cardiovascular physician, older adults who experience a shingles outbreak can protect their heart and blood vessel health as much as possible.
For this and all of your cardiovascular needs, contact us at CA Heart and Vein Specialists in Huntington Beach, California, to schedule an appointment with Dr. Chane. Call the office or book a visit online today.