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Can Shingles Cause Chronic Pain?

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Updated December 08, 2009

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: Can Shingles Cause Chronic Pain?
Answer: Yes it can. Some cases of shingles develop into a painful chronic condition called postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN.

What is Shingles?

Shingles is an infectious disease caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox: the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). Anyone who has had chicken pox is susceptible to shingles; however, it most commonly occurs in women over 40. Shingles is caused by residual particles in the nerves that can be “re-activated” by another exposure to the virus. When this happens, the person often breaks out into an uncomfortable rash.

Shingles causes nerve pain, which may feel like burning or itching. It may also cause lesions to develop on the body. Symptoms may last for a few weeks or months.

Shingles and Chronic Pain

For some people, the pain of shingles persists long after the shingles lesions have healed. This condition is called postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN. Postherpetic neuralgia causes moderate to severe nerve pain that may last for months or years. Like many types of neuropathic pain, postherpetic neuralgia can be difficult to treat.

Sources:

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Shingles: Hope Through Research. Accessed 12/2/09. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/shingles/detail_shingles.htm

VZV Research Foundation. Shingles and PHN: Your Questions Answered. 2000.

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