Shingles is a condition caused by a reactivation of the varicella virus, the herpes virus responsible for chickenpox. Once an individual has been infected with chickenpox, this virus lies dormant within the body’s nerve tissue. Years later, the virus may reactivate as shingles, often after another illness or during a period of great stress. Advancing age and immune deficiency disorders are also risk factors for shingles.
Shingles most commonly presents as a painful rash of fluid-filled blisters wrapping around only one side of the body. Early treatment for shingles may minimize symptoms and prevent complications. Since shingles affects the nerves, patients may experience a wide variety of sensations including shooting pain, itching, burning, numbness or aching similar to a pulled muscle. Additional symptoms of the disorder may include headache, fever, fatigue and general body aches. The shingles rash usually lasts for several weeks to as much as a month. For most individuals, the pain lessens as the rash heals. Some patients, however, experience long-term nerve pain after a case of shingles, pain which may linger for more than a year.
Shingles is diagnosed by an examination of the rash and a discussion of the patient’s symptoms. If a definitive diagnosis is difficult to make, the doctor may take a biopsy or sample of fluid for a laboratory culture. Treatment of shingles consists of the use of analgesics and antiviral medications. Antivirals may shorten the course and decrease symptom severity as well as decrease the risk of ongoing pain. While shingles is not a life-threatening disease, it can be extremely painful and interfere greatly with normal activities and quality of life.
A shingles vaccine is now available and recommended for individuals age 60 and older. While not preventative of the reactivation of the shingles virus in all cases, it has been demonstrated to greatly reduce the risk of an outbreak, as well as to lessen the severity of the disease should it occur.
Help with healing and lessen pain.