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 Shingles  Holistic-online.com

Shingles (Herpes Zoster)

Introduction to Shingles

Shingles is a very painful and often debilitating condition. It is caused by the same virus (herpes zoster) as chickenpox. After one contracts chicken pox, the virus can lie dormant in sensory (skin) nerves for decades. It reappears when the immune system is weakened by age, disease or unmanaged stress. When events occur that decrease the immune system, such as aging, severe emotional stress, severe illness, or long-term usage of corticosteroids, the immune system cannot suppress the dormant organisms any longer and they become active again, causing infection along the pathway of the nerve.

Painful skin blisters erupt on one side of your face or body. Typically, this occurs along your chest, abdomen, back, or face, but it may also affect your neck, limbs, or lower back. It can be excruciatingly painful, itchy, and tender. After one to two weeks, the blisters heal and form scabs, although the pain continues.

Shingles itself is not a communicable disease. However, exposure to the rash may cause small children to develop chickenpox. Pregnant women, adults who have never had chickenpox, and persons with impaired immune systems should avoid direct contact with anyone suffering from shingles.

Symptoms of Shingles

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Slight fever, malaise, chills, upset stomach

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Bruised feeling, usually on one side of your face or body.

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Pain (often in the chest) that is followed several days later by tingling, itching, or prickling skin and an inflamed, red skin rash.

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A group or long strip of small, fluid-filled blisters.

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Deep burning, searing, aching, or stabbing pain, which may be continuous or intermittent.

Symptoms of shingles  include a painful rash that usually appears on the torso or face. After a few days, chicken poxlike blisters form, then they crust over and eventually heal after two or three weeks. One attack of herpes zoster usually gives immunity for life.

This is typically how the disease progresses:

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Several days (three to four) before the skin outbreaks occur, there is usually fatigue, fever, chills, and sometimes gastrointestinal upset.

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On the third to fourth day the skin area becomes very excessively sensitive.

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On the fourth or fifth day, characteristic small blisters erupt that crust and hurt along the path of a nerve so that the reddened outbreak affects a strip of skin that forms a line. This usually occurs over the ribs in the thoracic area and is usually limited to one side. Rarely, it can affect the lower part of the body or the face.

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The affected area is very sensitive and the pain may be very severe.

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The eruptions heal about five days later.

In about half of those who develop shingles, the pain persists for months and sometimes years. This is called postherpetic neuralgia. Frequently, the pain is quite severe.

Causes of Shingles

The pain of shingles is caused by an inflammation of the nerve that lies just beneath the skin's surface. Shingles originates from the same virus which causes chickenpox. The virus, after infecting the person with chickenpox, retreats to the nervous system where it remains dormant for many years. It reappears in the form of shingles, only if the immune system is weakened, or as a result of a more severe or lengthy illness, extreme stress, or a therapy involving suppression of the immune system. Herpes zoster is common in people with a weakened immune system, such as AIDS patients or people taking anticancer or immunosuppressant drugs. Shingles is more common in the elderly, who tend to have less efficient immune systems. Overall health and nutrition often determine the severity of illness and length of recovery.

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