donnamarie By donnamarie, 18th Oct 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Health>General Health>Diseases & Infections

This article explains the symptoms, diagnosis, risks and treatments for shingles, which is an infection caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox.


Shingles is an infection of the nerve and the area of skin which surrounds it. The herpes varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox, is the cause.

Most people have chickenpox when they are children but after the illness goes away, the virus stays dormant (inactive) in the nervous system. The virus is kept in check by the nervous system but it can be reactivated later in life and lead to shingles.

Shingles is common, with one in five people developing it in their lives. It can occur in any age but it is most common in people who are over 50 years old.

An episode of shingles normally lasts between 2-4 weeks. The first sign that you have shingles is a tingling sensation in the affected area. This is followed by pain and then a rash.

The rash and pain of shingles can affect any part of the body but it is the chest and abdomen that are most commonly affected. An experience of pain may also be felt in the arms and the legs and the nerves in the upper half of the face may also be affected sometimes.

You feel a localised "band" of pain in the affected area if you have shingles.

This pain can be a constant, dull or a burning sensation. The intensity of the pain may range from mild to severe. You might feel sharp stabbing pains from time to time and the affected of skin is often tender.

Two or three days after the start of the pain, the shingles rash usually develops. It appears on one side of your body and will develop in the area of skin which is related to the nerve which has been affected by shingles.

The shingles rash initially appears as red blotches on the skin. It then quickly develops into itchy blisters. These blisters are similar in appearance to chickenpox. New blisters can appear for up to a week but they become yellowish in colour, flatten and dry out after about three days after appearing.

Scans then form where the blisters were. This may leave a little scarring.

Other Symptoms
The symptoms of shingles are often mild but you should see your GP if you have them as soon as possible. Early treatment can reduce the symptoms severity and the risk of developing complications.

If you have any of the following symptoms you should seek medical attention straight away:

high fever
memory loss
severe headache
any symptoms that affect the eye area

It is also important to see your GP if you have the symptoms of shingles and are, or suspect you might be pregnant or if you have a weakened immune system.

Postherpetic Neuralgia
Some people with shingles feel a severe nerve pain. This is known as neuralgia. Postherpetic neuralgia happens if the nerves are damaged. It can last for months or even years after the initial symptoms have gone.

Diagnosis will normally be able to be made from your symptoms and appearance of your rash. Testing is not normally necessary.

If your GP feels that you are at risk of developing complications or if he is unsure of the diagnosis, he might refer you to a specialist.

If there is suspicion that your eyes are being affected by shingles you might be referred to a ophthalmologist. problems with vision or unexplained redness of the eye are signs that you eyes are affected.

If you have a weakened immune system you will be referred to a specialist. This is so your condition can be monitored closely as you are at greater risk of developing complications.

You may be referred to a specialist if the pain or rash is not responding to medication.

Virus particles are contained in the blisters which develop due to shingles. Direct contact with open blisters can spread the virus. If you have shingles you are contagious until the last blister has scabbed over. This usually happens five to seven days after the start of the symptoms.

If someone who has not had chickenpox comes into contact with someone with shingles, they can catch chickenpox from them.

Shingles does not have a cure but the symptoms can be eased with treatment.

You should try to keep the rash as clean and dry as you can. This reduces the risk of infection by bacteria. Loose-fitting clothing may also help you to feel more comfortable.

Painkilling Medication
You might be prescribed a painkilling medicine to help ease pain caused by shingles. Some like paracetamol and ibuprofen are available over the counter while other, stronger painkillers may need to be prescribed by your GP.

If you have stomach or kidney problems (even in past) you should avoid taking ibuprofen. You should also not take it if you have severe liver disease. It may not also be suitable if you are pregnant or have asthma so ask your GP or pharmacist if you are not sure.

You might be prescribed an antidepressant medicine if you have severe pain due to shingles. They are especially useful for severe or prolonged pain.

Antidepressants which are used for the treatment of shingles are called tricylic antidepressants. Tricylic depressants affect the levels of certain chemicals within the body. Amitriptyline, imipramine and nortriptyline are the most commonly prescribed tricylic antidepressants.

Side effects include:
trouble urinating
blurred vision
dry mouth
weight gain

It will normally take several weeks before you begin to feel this medication working.

These are most commonly used to help control the symptoms of epilepsy but can also be used to help manage nerve pain. They stabilise the electrical nerve activity within the brain. The most commonly prescribed anticonvulsant for shingles pain is gabapentin.

Side effects of gabapentin can include:

swollen ankles

Antiviral Medication
Some people with shingles might also be prescribed an antiviral medication, as well as painkilling medication.

This medication does not kill the shingles virus but can help to stop it from multiplying. The severity of the shingles can be reduced by antiviral medication. This is particularly true if you take it in the early stages.

Commonly prescribed antiviral medications include aciclovir, valaciclovir and famciclovir. This type of medication normally needs to be taken for seven days.

It is likely that you will be prescribed an antiviral medication of you are over 50 years old and have the symptoms of shingles. You might also be prescribed it if you have:

symptoms affecting your eyes
a weakened immune system
a rash on other parts of your body other than the torso, for example neck, arms or legs
moderate to severe pain
moderate to severe rash

If you are pregnant and have shingles your GP may discuss your case with a specialist so they can decide if the benefits of antiviral medication outweigh any possible risks significantly.


Blisters, Chickenpox, Herpes, Infection, Rash

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author avatar Padi
24th Oct 2010 (#)

I had shingles 10 yearsago/ small areaof my back. small rash and intense nersepain. came back same area also have chest ains. Took Acyclovier 3 for 10 days. still got shingles. so i'm goingto get a refill and up the dose. First time i had it er gave me reaal strog dose and it wasgone in 5 days.

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author avatar muthusamy
27th Feb 2011 (#)

Well written and brought out all facts on shingles. It is also called as
zona or Herpes zoster (or simply zoster).

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author avatar Jesse Berumen
2nd May 2011 (#)

I am so frustrated. After 10 different MDs no one has been able to help me. I have all the pain and sensitive skin after shingles,but no shingles Help!

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author avatar Mikey.
14th Mar 2012 (#)

Hi Donna, I have heard of shingles but thankfully never got them.

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