Pain Management

If You've Been Diagnosed with Shingles

From the National Institute on Aging

Shingles is a disease that affects nerves and causes pain and blisters in adults. It’s caused by the same varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox in children. After you recover from chickenpox, the virus doesn’t leave your body, but continues to live in some nerve cells. For reasons that aren’t totally understood, the virus can become active instead of remaining inactive. When it’s activated in adults, it produces shingles.

Most adults live with the varicella-zoster virus in their body and never get shingles. About one in five people who have had chickenpox will get shingles later in life. With shingles, the blisters tend to be clustered in one specific area, rather than scattered all over the body like chickenpox.

When the activated virus travels along the path of a nerve to the surface of the skin, a rash will appear. It usually shows up as a band on one side of the face or body. The word “shingles” comes from the Latin word for belt because that’s often the shape of the rash. Having shingles doesn’t mean that you have any other underlying disease such as cancer.

Who Is At Risk?

Anyone with the varicella-zoster virus in their body can be at risk for getting shingles. Right now there is no way of knowing who will get the disease. But, there are things that make you more likely to get shingles.

Advanced age. The risk of getting shingles increases as you age. People have a hard time fighting off infections as they get older. The chance of getting shingles becomes much higher by age 70.

Trouble fighting infections. Your immune system is the part of your body that fights off infections. Age can affect your immune system. So can an HIV infection, cancer, cancer drugs, radiation treatments, too much sun, or organ transplant. Even stress or a cold can weaken your immune system for a short time and put you at risk for shingles.

What Are the Symptoms of Shingles?

Most people have some of the following symptoms.

*Burning, tingling, or numbness of the skin

*Feeling sick—chills, fever, upset stomach, or headache

*Fluid-filled blisters

*Skin that is sensitive to touch

*Mild itching to strong pain

Shingles follows a pattern. A few days after the tingling or burning feeling on the skin, a red rash will come out on your body, face, or neck. In a few days, the rash will turn into fluid-filled blisters. The blisters dry up and crust over within several days. The rash usually happens on one side of the body. Most cases of shingles last from 3 to 5 weeks.

You Should See A Doctor

It’s important to go to your doctor no later than three days after the rash starts. The doctor needs to see the rash to confirm that you have shingles and make a treatment plan. Although there is no cure for shingles, early treatment with drugs that fight the virus can help the blisters dry up faster and prevent the severe pain. Shingles can often be treated at home. Patients with shingles rarely need to stay in a hospital.

Why Does the Pain Persist?