Study Finds Getting Shingles Vaccine May Be ‘Heart-Smart’

Shingles associated with heart attack, mini-stroke

older woman getting vaccine

Now, there’s another reason to get a shingles vaccine. New research finds that by lowering your risk for shingles, you also lower your risk for heart attack and mini-stroke.

To arrive at this finding, researchers at University College London scoured existing patient medical records looking for patterns between shingles and cardiovascular disease.

After factoring in other conditions, they determined that herpes zoster – the virus associated with shingles – is an independent risk factor for heart attack.

Scientists think that the increased risk might lie in chronic inflammation of blood vessels, which shingles causes.

The study, published in Neurology, also found that major stroke risk increased in patients who had shingles at or under the age of 40.

Shingles not a cause of heart attacks, mini-strokes

It’s important to note that the findings do not suggest that shingles actually causes heart attacks, says Benico Barzilai, MD, Head of the Section of Clinical Cardiology in the Robert and Suzanne Tomsich Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. He did not take part in the study, but reviewed the results.

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“The UK study raised interesting questions that do warrant further study, but it doesn’t say that shingles causes heart attacks, because the relationship found is an association, not cause and effect,” he says.

This means that while researchers did find a relationship between shingles and these cardiovascular events, they did not find data to support shingles as a direct cause of them, an important distinction.

Who should get the shingles vaccine

Experts say people age 60 and older should ask their doctor about the shingles vaccine. This is keeping with current Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations.

“Generally, young and middle-aged adults don’t need vaccination,” Dr. Barzilai says.

Andrea Sikon, MD, Chair of the Department of Internal Medicine and Geriatrics in the Medicine Institute at Cleveland Clinic, explains current guidelines:  “The vaccine is approved for use at age 50, but the optimal time to vaccinate might not be that early, as effectiveness may wane over time.”

Exceptions and warnings

Not everyone age 60 and older should receive the vaccine because it can be dangerous for people with some pre-existing conditions.

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Drs. Barzilai and Sikon both stress that the vaccine can be dangerous for cancer patients, transplant patients, patients with HIV and those on medications that supress their immune system, such as systemic steroids and chemotherapy, among others.

This is because the herpes zoster vaccine contains a live, attenuated (weakened) virus. Doctors must carefully assess the health status of each patient before administering it.

The chicken pox-shingles connection

The same virus that causes chicken pox (varicella) also causes shingles. Even after symptoms of chicken pox disappear, the varicella virus stays put in the body, lying dormant until later in life when it can reassert itself.

Anyone who had chicken pox or the vaccine against it, which is typically in childhood, can develop shingles later in life.

Typically, shingles causes a rash and painful blisters on the legs, arms or all over the body. In some cases, pain can linger for months or even years after other symptoms subside.

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  • Paula

    Interested in the benefits of taking large doses (1000-2000 mg) of Vitamin D as recommended by my Dr. And my husbands Dr.

  • John Porter

    Where can I get the vaccine? Would insurance cover it? How much would it cost?

    • Hvuong25

      Most pharmacies offer shingles vaccine. A lot of insurance will cover if you’re 60 or older, otherwise price ranges from $200-250!

  • Diana Williamson

    I am 63 yrs. old and oldest of 10 kids. My mother always swore I was the only one who never got chicken pox. Did not get them when my kids got them in middle school. Can u get tested to see if you ever had them? Should I consider getting vaccine? Got asthma and 5 yr. survivor breast cancer. ???

    • NurseL

      Yes you can n ask your Dr to draw a chicken pox titer. It will tell him if you have immunity to the chicken pox virus, or if you’ve never been exposed to it. I am a nurse and just had to have my titer drawn when I started a new job because a had shingles at 25. =/

  • guest

    it “may” protect you and yet I had the shingles before 60….yes, it was nasty but I am here to tell the tale and no one can say if I should have the vaccine now…..

  • Tara

    My husband just had a horrible case of shingles on his head and face about 6 months ago. He is only 38 years old.

  • Deb Larson Tietz

    If you already had shingles, should you still get the vaccine?

    • Steve

      It is my understanding from the literature that in people who have had VZV infection, the Zoster vaccine (higher dose than the Varicella vaccine we give to children) decreases the chances of developing Zoster (shingles) by about 50%. It’s not perfect, and I’m not sure if there is data on people who not only have had chicken pox but also a bout of shingles as well. The purpose of the vaccine is to boost the body’s immune system’s capability of fighting off the virus should it re-appear.

  • knockdoodle

    I am 71 and my doctor said i could get the Shingles Vaccine at a Pharmacy for $50.00…I have Medicare but he said Medicare wouldn’t pay for it…

    • Cheryl Willians

      Walgreen’s said $100 after Medicare Advantage.

      • michael

        I got mine at Walgreens with Medicare part B and a supplemental Cigna insurance for $0.

  • The_Beating_Edge_Team

    Here are some additional resources you may find helpful on Shingles – related to risks, coverage, when to have the vaccine:

    CDC shingles information:

    Shingles MedlinePlus:

    Uptodate shingles information:

  • Sally Glasby Breazeale

    Can shingles occur in the mouth? Had vaccine 2009. 2011 had mild case with severe pain, neurological like shingles. Mild compared to shingles have seen without vaccine. Now, problem with a few “bumps” in mouth, extremely sore, painful. Dentist thinks I have shingles in my mouth related to stress. 6th day still have very sore mouth, “bumps” receded. Rinse with Peroxyl, some relief. How long does this last and will anti-viral med given when had shingles work successfully ?

  • Cheryl Willians

    Who can afford shingles vaccine? It’s $100 co-pay after Medicare Advantage!

  • Kl

    Just had shingles of the face and mouth at 44yrs. Should I now get vaccine or won’t it help w reoccurrence

  • Arlene

    I have had 5 epidural injections to treat sciatica and back pain, the last one in mid-July and also took a 60mg dose of prednisone in May. How long do I have to wait to get the shingles vaccine to make sure that it’s safe?

    • The_Beating_Edge_Team

      Arlene – on the article at – it states:”Persons on immunosuppressive therapy, including high-dose corticosteroids (>20 mg/day of prednisone or equivalent) lasting two or more weeks. Zoster vaccination should be deferred for at least 1 month after discontinuation of such therapy (209). Short-term corticosteroid therapy (<14 days); low-to-moderate dose (<20 mg/day of prednisone or equivalent); topical (e.g., nasal, skin, inhaled); intra-articular, bursal, or tendon injections; or long-term alternate-day treatment with low to moderate doses of short-acting systemic corticosteroids are not considered to be sufficiently immunosuppressive to cause concerns for vaccine safety. Persons receiving this dose or schedule can receive zoster vaccine."
      I suggest you bring a copy of the article to your doctor to discuss. betsyRN