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Can Your Cold Sores Indicate Later Alzheimer's or Cognitive Decline?

By HERWriter Guide
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cold sores may be indicators of cognitive decline or Alzheimer's MonkeyBusiness Images/PhotoSpin

An article on CNN.com caught my eye because I'm suffering greatly at the moment with a rotten cold sore right in the middle of my lower lip.

I blame my cold sores on having played spin-the-bottle when all of us neighborhood kids were 14 and bored one summer.

One girl said she couldn't kiss a guy because of her cold sore and he said he didn't mind (desperate times!). They had a big old kissing session despite that glaring open sore on her lip!

We all thought it was gross but it didn't occur to us that down the line we'd be suffering on occasion too.

Cold sores are a very common form of the herpes simplex virus HSV-1, which is different from its relative HSV-2 that causes genital herpes. It is spread from kissing or sharing makeup with a person who has the virus.

Because we're such a kissy society, we pass it along to our babies, kids, partners and then they do ... and so the virus -- like any virus -- is easily spread.

Cold sores are painful blisters that start off with a tingling sensation and quickly turn into open sores They generally appear on the lips but can also spread about the mouth area, inside or on the skin around the mouth.

They have a tendency to become dry and split open again and bleed, or remain open due to constant activity of the mouth, like eating, talking, yawning, etc.

Cold sores can take anywhere from 5-10 days to heal and often re-emerge in times of stress or when a person's immune system is lo. This is a similar pattern found for many viruses.

Columbia University studied more than 1500 people over a period of eight years to determine how antibodies in the body react to various viruses, including the herpes virus.

Researchers devised a scale called the "infectious burden index". People who showed high levels on this scale were more likely to have worse cognitive abilities.

The study found that those who had the herpes HSV-1 virus had a greater risk of cognitive impairment. An article about this study in CNN also mentioned that previous studies showed a possible link between Alzheimer's disease and herpes simplex type 1 infections.

It should be noted that the average age of the participants was 69. Their infectious burden index was already elevated at the start of the study and did not change during the course of the study.

However, the participants who had been exposed to more high-risk viruses, such as herpes simplex, had higher indexes.

On a positive note, researchers found that physical exercise can help decrease cognitive impairment and that childhood vaccinations for various viruses can also help.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Mira Katan, said that "... while this association needs to be further studied, the results could lead to ways to identify people at risk of cognitive impairment and eventually lower that risk." She said she'd also like to see a similar study with younger participants.

Not everyone was impressed with the study.

Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine said that while the study may have raised some interesting points "they cannot impute causal associations, these are just interesting phenomenon. My concerns are, who are these people who are drawn into these studies? Because they're not a representative population. They of course have had a dropout rate, so I'm just very cautious about what we can conclude from this association."

But he conceded that a study like this could open the door to further investigations.

Schaffner is not connected with the study or the accompanying research.

Preventing cold sores is difficult because even when a person doesn't have an outbreak, the virus can still be transmitted. Nevertheless you can help protect yourself if you avoid having contact with someone who has an outbreak, don't kiss them or share cups, glasses or makeup with them.

To avoid outbreaks, a healthy diet and exercise regime for a strong immune system helps and some people take an antiviral medication on a daily basis. When a person feels a cold sore coming on, using an anti-viral medication can avoid a full outbreak or at least shorten it.

Using Vaseline can moisten the cold sore to keep it from drying out so much that it cracks open and bleeds.

Risk factors for getting cold sores include:

Physical Stress and Illness

Stress on the body due to illness or excessive exercise can weaken the body’s immune system and lead to an outbreak of cold sores. Common examples of stress or illness include:

- Infection, fever, or cold
- Physical injury
- Dental surgery
- Menstruation
- Medication like steroids, or illness like HIV, that suppresses the immune system
- Eczema
- Excessive exercise

Emotional Stress

Cold sore outbreaks commonly occur during times of emotional stress. The type of stress that activates cold sores is typically negative stress, instead of stress due to positive or normal life-changing events.

For more information on risk factors, click here: https://www.empowher.com/media/reference/risk-factors-cold-sores-herpes-...


CNN. com. CNN Health. . Web. Retrieved March 26th, 2013.

EmpowHER.com. Dental and Oral Health. Risk Factors for Cold Sores (Herpes Simplex Type 1) by Editorial Staff. Web. Retrieved March 26th, 2013.

Reviewed March 28, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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