Shingles

Alternative Names

Herpes zoster

Definition of Shingles

Shingles (herpes zoster) is a painful, blistering skin rash due to the varicella-zoster virus, the virus that causes chickenpox.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

After you get chickenpox, the virus remains inactive (becomes dormant) in certain nerves in the body. Shingles occurs after the virus becomes active again in these nerves years later.

Symptoms

The first symptom is usually one-sided pain, tingling, or burning. The pain and burning may be severe and is usually present before any rash appears.

Signs and tests

Your doctor can make the diagnosis by looking at your skin and asking questions about your medical history.

Treatment

Your doctor may prescribe a medicine that fights the virus, called an antiviral. The drug helps reduce pain and complications and shorten the course of the disease. Acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir may be used.

Expectations (prognosis)

Herpes zoster usually clears in 2 to 3 weeks and rarely recurs. If the virus affects the nerves that control movement (the motor nerves), you may have temporary or permanent weakness or paralysis.

Review

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine; Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc. – 5/25/2010

Herpes zoster (shingles) on the back
Adult dermatome
Shingles
Herpes zoster (shingles) - close-up of lesion
Herpes zoster (shingles) on the arm
Herpes zoster (shingles) on the chest
Herpes zoster (shingles) on the hand and fingers
Herpes zoster (shingles) on the neck and cheek
Herpes zoster (shingles) on the hand
Herpes zoster (shingles), disseminated
Herpes zoster (shingles) on the back

ADAM Medical Encyclopedia

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