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Shingles is a medical condition that causes a painful rash in response to the viral infection. It can occur anywhere on the body, but it typically appears first around one side of the torso in a stripe of blisters. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. This virus remains dormant in nerve tissue near the brain and spinal cord and may reactivate later in life. Shingles is not life threatening, but can be quite painful.

Causes, Risk Factors and Complications of Shingles

Anyone who has previously had chickenpox can experience the development of shingles. The virus can enter into the nervous system and travel along nerve pathways until it reaches the skin with the result being the shingles rash. The reasons behind this reappearance are as yet unknown, but researchers think that it may have to do with the lowered immune response to infections that occur in older individuals. Shingles are more common in individuals who are older or who have naturally weaker immune systems.

There are some complications that can result from shingles. These include: skin infections, neurological problems and vision loss as well as postherpetic neuralgia. For some people, the pain that comes with shingles continues beyond the removal or clearing of the blisters, which is known as postherpetic neuralgia. Vision loss can occur in the event of ophthalmic shingles (those occurring around the eye). If shingles present themselves there, it can cause a painful infection. Depending on what nerves the condition affect, neurological problems may occur including encephalitis or brain inflammation, hearing problems, balance problems and facial paralysis. Because these are serious complications, it is important to seek medical assistance when showing signs of shingles.

Signs, Symptoms and Tests forShingles

Most symptoms pertaining to shingles only appear on a single side of the body and typically only in a small band or section. These signs and symptoms may include: pain, numbness, burning or tingling, itching, a red rash appearing a few days after the pain begins and blisters filled with fluid that break open and then crust over. Some people with shingles also experience fatigue, general aches, fever, chills and headache. The pain is typically the first symptom to appear, and it appears several days before the rash begins to form.

If the rash is not forming yet, then a physician may base the shingles diagnosis on the patients history of pain in the area since very few ailments cause pain in such a specific area of the body without another known cause. However, once the telltale rash and blisters form, the diagnosis becomes simpler. A physician may also want to culture or scrape the blisters so they can examine their contents under a microscope in a lab prior to making a diagnosis.

Treatment, Drugs and Preventionof Shingles

Because shingles is a viral infection, there is no known cure. However, there are treatment options that a physician will recommend in order to speed the healing of the blisters and rash as well as to reduce the risk of potential complications. Prompt treatment using an anti-viral medication is essential. Some examples of anti-viral medications include: Acyclovir or Zovirax, Valacyclovir or Valtrex, Famciclovir or Famvir. Because the shingles virus can cause severe pain and discomfort, a physician may also prescribe anti-convulsant medications such as gabapentin or Neurontin, tricyclic antidepressant medications such as amitryptaline, numbing agents like lidocaine and narcotic pain relievers such as codeine.