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Shingles, Herpes Zoster : Definition, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Complication and Treatment

Monday, August 6th 2012. | Disease, Skin, Hair and Nails

Shingles Definition

Shingles is characterized by rash, often very painful, which is due to reactivation of varicella zoster virus. The first contact with the virus is responsible for the occurrence of chickenpox.

Both diseases – shingles and chickenpox – are highly contagious, especially for elderly or immunocompromised individuals.

When appropriate treatment is initiated within hours after onset of symptoms, the disease usually heals within a few weeks without sequelae.

Shingles Causes

  • Shingles is always preceded by another infection chickenpox. The varicella-zoster virus remains dormant for many years, to be inactive in the nerve ganglia.
  • Shingles can be indicative of a weakened immune system and in this context it occurs in patients with AIDS, cancer patients or patients undergoing chemotherapy.
  • Other factors such as influenza, stress or significant exposure to sunlight may increase the risk of shingles.
Herpes Zoster

Shingles imagae (thanks to : onlinemedicinetips.com)

Shingles Symptoms

  • The first sign of reactivation of the chickenpox virus is the appearance of a burning sensation along the nerve pathways, the appearance of a burn as a belt is very characteristic for Shingles. This burning is associated with sensory disorders and severe pain, from the spine and radiating to the sternum.
  • There is a general feeling of illness, possibly with a fever and swollen lymph nodes
  • The characteristic skin lesions of the disease appear after three days: small vesicles on erythematous cupboards resembling those of chickenpox. Lesions may occur anywhere in the body (trunk, head, buttocks) but they are limited to a specific nerve territory relatively well defined, and reach only half of the body.
  • The climax is reached after 5 days the blisters break and are gradually replaced by scabs; the scabs fall off after 2 to 3 weeks.
  • The pain may persist or recur after weeks or months. These are postherpetic neuralgia, affecting mainly the elderly. They can last for years.

Shingles Diagnosis

  • History taking into account the patient’s symptoms
  • Smears of lesions

Shingles Treatment Options

Treatment should be initiated as soon as possible to avoid an unfavorable and the occurrence of complications. Virostatics drugs (drugs against the virus) cause a rapid decrease in pain and redness. After treatment, complications of the disease occur more rarely. A local application of powder and solutions can also be useful.

varicella zoster

varicella zoster virus (img thanks to : fastchickenpoxcure.com)

Shingles Possible Complications

Most cases of zoster evolve without complications after initiation of treatment, shingles heals in about a month. Especially in elderly patients, the pain may persist for months or years after healing of skin lesions. This clinical picture is the post-herpetic neuralgia.

Other consequences:

  • Skin scars
  • Scars may form in the cornea and decrease in visual acuity
  • The cranial nerves can cause hearing damage, paralysis of facial muscles or loss of taste.
  • In some patients, there may be a breach of the brain, the meninges or spinal dorsal diaphragmatic paralysis may also occur.
  • An extension of lesions to the entire body surface (generalized herpes zoster) occurs in people with weakened immune systems or under immunosuppression. This can be life threatening.
  • The post-herpetic neuralgia is very painful and are akin to “stab”.
  • The lesions can leave hyperpigmented areas of skin (brown) or depigmented (white).
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