Dec 02, 2013
Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash. Although shingles can occur anywhere on your body, it most often appears as a single stripe of blisters that wraps around either the left or the right side of your torso.
Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus — the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you've had chickenpox, the virus lies inactive in nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. Years later, the virus may reactivate as shingles.
While it isn't a life-threatening condition, shingles can be very painful. Vaccines can help reduce the risk of shingles, while early treatment can help shorten a shingles infection and lessen the chance of complications.
The signs and symptoms of shingles usually affect only a small section of one side of your body. These signs and symptoms may include:
- Pain, burning, numbness or tingling
- A red rash that begins a few days after the pain
- Fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over
Some people also experience:
- Fever and chills
- General achiness
Pain is usually the first symptom of shingles. For some, it can be intense. Depending on the location of the pain, it can sometimes be mistaken for a symptom of problems affecting the heart, lungs or kidneys. Some people experience shingles pain without ever developing the rash.
Most commonly, the shingles rash develops as a stripe of blisters that wraps around either the left or right side of your torso. Sometimes the shingles rash occurs around one eye or on one side of the neck or face.
Anyone who has ever had chickenpox can develop shingles. Most adults in the United States had chickenpox when they were children, before the advent of the routine childhood vaccination that now protects against chickenpox.
Factors that may increase your risk of developing shingles include:
- Age. Shingles is most common in people older than 50. The risk increases with age. Some experts estimate that half the people who live to the age of 85 will experience shingles at some point in their lives.
- Diseases. Diseases that weaken your immune system, such as HIV/AIDS and cancer, can increase your risk of shingles.
- Cancer treatments. Undergoing radiation or chemotherapy can lower your resistance to diseases and may trigger shingles.
- Medications. Drugs designed to prevent rejection of transplanted organs can increase your risk of shingles — as can prolonged use of steroids, such as prednisone.