Shingles (Herpes Zoster)
What is shingles?
Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a common viral infection of the nerves, which results in a painful rash of small blisters on an area of skin anywhere on the body. Even after the rash is gone, the pain can continue for months, even years.
Shingles is caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, which causes chickenpox. After a person has had chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in certain nerves for many years. Herpes zoster is more common in persons with a depressed immune system, and in persons over the age of 50.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this year more than one million people will develop shingles.
What are the symptoms of shingles?
The following are the most common symptoms of shingles. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
Other early symptoms of shingles may include:
The symptoms of shingles may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
How is shingles diagnosed?
In addition to a complete physical examination and medical history, diagnostic tests for shingles may include the following:
Complications of shingles:
Active shingles symptoms usually do not last longer than three to five weeks. However, complications do occasionally occur. The two major complications that can occur as a result of a case of shingles include the following:
Treatment for shingles:
Specific treatment for shingles will be determined by your physician based on:
Shingles has to run its course, because there is no cure for the disease. Treatment usually focuses on pain relief. Treatment may include painkillers to help alleviate some of the pain and antiviral drugs to help lessen some of the symptoms and minimize nerve damage. Other treatments may include:
A vaccine to prevent shingles was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in May, 2006. The new vaccine, Zostavax®, is recommended for adults 60 years of age and older who have previously had chicken pox but have not had shingles. Zostavax is expected to prevent 51 percent of shingles cases in the US each year and to reduce the severity of shingles in another 67 percent of cases per year.