Shingles causes

Shingles is a disease that affects your nerves. You may recall having chickenpox as a child. Shingles is caused by the same virus, the varicella-zoster virus VZV. After you recover from chickenpox, the virus continues to live in some of your nerve cells. In fact, most adults live with VZV in their bodies and never get shingles. But, for about one in three adultsthe virus will become active again. Instead of causing another case of chickenpox, it produces shingles.

We do not totally understand what makes the virus go from inactive to active. Everyone who has had chickenpox has VZV in their body and is at risk for getting shingles. Right now, there is no way of knowing who will get the disease. But, some things make it more likely:. Shingles is not contagious. But, you can catch chickenpox from someone with shingles. If you have shingles, try to stay away from anyone who has not had chickenpox or who might have a weak immune system. Usually, shingles develops only on one side of the body or face and in a small area rather than all over.

The most common place for shingles is a band that goes around one side of your waistline. Depending on where shingles develops, it could also cause symptoms like hiccups or even loss of vision. For some people, the symptoms of shingles are mild.

They might just have some itching. For others, shingles can cause intense pain that can be felt from the gentlest touch or breeze.


After the shingles rash goes away, some people may be left with ongoing pain called post-herpetic neuralgia or PHN. The pain is felt in the area where the rash had been.Avoid stress and you may be able to avoid worsening shingles symptoms.

A viral illness, shingles is caused by varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. The virus lives in your body and reactivates more readily when your immune system is suppressed. According to the U. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 million people in the United States experience a shingles outbreak every year. If you get shingles, stress also can exacerbate your misery, by making the itching, burning, painful rash seem worse and lengthening your recovery time.

Emotional stress is considered a trigger for shingles because it has been shown to weaken the body's immune system. This can happen in those who have undergone a sudden shock, such as the death of a loved one, or people who face chronic work or life stress. An immune system weakened by stress provides the shingles virus with a window of opportunity. This is particularly true of people who already have challenged immune systems, either because they are older or because they have an immune deficiency or a chronic disease.

Stress also has been shown to alter a person's perception of pain. People who are under stress are likely to feel the physical symptoms of a disease more acutely.

The itching, burning, and aching normally associated with shingles becomes even more intolerable when a person is under stress. Finally, continued stress can prolong the discomfort a shingles patient experiences.

It can keep the immune system weak, preventing more rapid recovery. Studies have shown that stress also can lead to lingering complications from shingles. Some researchers have found that people under stress are more likely to experience prolonged pain as a result of postherpetic neuralgia, a complication in which shingles pain persists long after the rash has cleared.

If you have shingles, try to avoid stress to aid the healing process and limit the possibility of complications. Practice these stress management tips as needed to get stress under control:.

Practicing good stress management is smart self-care for everyone, but can be especially beneficial for people at risk of developing shingles or who already have the illness.

By subscribing you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Health Topics. By Dennis Thompson Jr. Last Updated: February 21, Shingles and Emotional Stress Emotional stress is considered a trigger for shingles because it has been shown to weaken the body's immune system.

Stress Management Tips to Outsmart Shingles If you have shingles, try to avoid stress to aid the healing process and limit the possibility of complications. Practice these stress management tips as needed to get stress under control: Talk out your feelings Expressing your feelings of stress to friends, loved ones, or a psychotherapist can help you tremendously.

Identify your stress triggers. Figure out what triggers stress in you, and try to avoid those situations or lessen their impact by dealing with them before they can affect you negatively. Adopt a healthy lifestyle. Getting enough sleep, following a nutritious diet, and exercising regularly can go a long way toward managing stress. Avoid too much caffeine and alcohol. Calm down.

Signs & Symptoms

Find a meditation or relaxation technique that works for you, and use it when you start feeling overwhelmed by stress. Find the right balance.Back to Health A to Z. Shingles is an infection that causes a painful rash. Get advice from as soon as possible if you think you have it. Usually you get shingles on your chest and tummy, but it can appear on your face, eyes and genitals.

They can arrange a phone call from a nurse or doctor if you need one. Go to You cannot spread shingles to others. But people who have not had chickenpox before could catch chickenpox from you. Stay off work or school if the rash is still oozing fluid weeping and cannot be covered, or until the rash has dried out. What are the risks of shingles during pregnancy? When people get chickenpox, the virus remains in the body.

It can be reactivated later and cause shingles if someone's immune system is lowered. A shingles vaccine is available on the NHS for people in their 70s. It helps reduce your risk of getting shingles. Find out more about who can have the shingles vaccine. Page last reviewed: 27 February Next review due: 27 February Check if you have shingles The first signs of shingles can be: a tingling or painful feeling in an area of skin a headache or feeling generally unwell A rash will appear a few days later.

The shingles rash appears as red blotches on your skin, on 1 side of your body only. A rash on both the left and right of your body is unlikely to be shingles. Urgent advice: Get advice from as soon as you suspect shingles.Learn the difference between this neurological disorder and other common skin problems such as hives or psoriasis. Do you ever wonder what shingles looks like?

The shingles virus causes an outbreak of a red rash and blisters across the face and body, like many other skin conditions — psoriasisallergieseczema, and hives among them.

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A shingles rash may have mild to severe pain, and the viral rash most commonly appears along a band called a dermatome. Dermatomes follow the paths of individual nerves and generally span one side of the chest, abdomen, or a limb. Unlike chicken pox, the shingles rash usually occurs on one side of the body. The shingles virus may also affect the neck, face or eyes and cause loss of vision. According to the Mayo Clinicshingles or herpes zoster is a common condition that occurs when the chicken pox virus varicella zoster reactivates after lying in the body dormant.

While the shingles rash occurs more often in older adults 50 and olderanyone of any age is at risk for the shingles rash, if they have had chicken pox. According to the CDCmore than 99 percent of Americans age 40 and older have had chicken pox. Also talk with your doctor about a shingles vaccination to prevent this viral rash if you have the following shingles virus risk factors:.

This is when the risk of shingles and its complications is highest. The shingles virus lies dormant in the nerve fibers of people who have had chicken pox; as they age, the virus can reactivate and cause shingles.

It is most common in those over The first symptom of the shingles rash is usually a burning or shooting pain, generally on one side of the body or face.

One to three days later, a viral rash will erupt and eventually form pus-filled blisters like those of chicken pox. The blisters remain for as long as two weeks before crusting over and fading away. All patients who suspect they have shingles should seek medical attention.

Studies show that not treating shingles worsens post-herpetic neuralgia pain. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease, most likely inherited, that is easy to confuse with the shingles rash. As with the shingles virus, psoriasis forms rash-like patches on the skin. One type of psoriasis — pustular — can lead to the development of blisters surrounded by red skin. Unlike the shingles rash, a psoriasis rash does not fade in a couple of weeks on its own. Instead, the skin often grows more red and scaly over time, and can crack and bleed.

A skin allergy can cause a rash that looks similar to the shingles rash.

Shingles: What You Should Know - Johns Hopkins Medicine

Red sores resulting from an allergic reaction to medication will be irregular in shape and either flat or raised. This kind of rash may also be caused by exposure to a skin allergen like poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumacin which red, itchy rashes may include bumps and seeping blisters, much like the shingles virus.

Rashes caused by allergic reactions tend to clear up on their own, often within three weeks after exposure. Hives are another type of allergic reaction that can be confused with the shingles rash. Hives are red, itchy bumps and swollen areas of varying sizes that can appear anywhere on the body. The allergic reaction that prompts hives can come from exposure to certain medications, foods, latex, or a viral infection.

A quarter of Americans will experience hives at least once in their lives, while one in three Americans over 60 will get the shingles virus.Shingles, also called herpes zoster, is a viral disease that can cause a painful, blistering rash, which usually appears on one side of the body.

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It's caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. An estimated 1 million cases occur in the U. Although the rash usually clears up within a few weeks, some people may experience lingering pain for months or even years afterwards, according to the CDC. But there are vaccines to prevent shingles, as well as treatments that may reduce the risk of complications from the disease. Shingles symptoms usually develop on one side of the body or face, and appear in a limited area, rather than all over, according to the National Institute on Aging NIA.

Symptoms include:. Blisters from the shingles rash usually scab over after 7 to 10 days, and the rash clears up within 2 to 4 weeks, the CDC says. Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus — the same virus that causes chickenpox, according to the CDC. After a person has chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in the body's nerve tissues and can "reactivate" years later to cause shingles. Shingles itself cannot spread person-to-person.

But it's possible for a person with shingles to spread the varicella zoster viruswhich would cause chickenpox in someone who has never had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine, according to the CDC. Still, shingles is less contagious than chickenpox, and the risk of spreading the virus is low if the rash is covered, the CDC says. Anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk of developing shingles. But some factors increase the risk of getting shingles, according to the NIA.

These include:. Doctors usually diagnose shingles based on a patient's symptoms of pain on one side of the body along with the hallmark rash, according to the Mayo Clinic. Doctors may also take a small sample from the tissue or blisters for lab tests. There's no cure for the shingles rash, but there are antiviral medications available that may reduce the duration and severity of the disease.

These medications work best if taken within the first 3 days of rash symptoms, according to the National Institutes of Health NIH. That's why it's important for people who think they have shingles to contact their doctor as soon as possible, the NIH says.

About 10 to 13 percent of people who get shingles develop a complication called postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN, according to the CDC.

The condition causes severe, and sometimes prolonged, pain in the area where a person had shingles, due to damaged nerve fibers. Pain from PHN typically goes away in a few weeks or months, but can sometimes last for many years. The condition may interfere with people's daily activities and cause depressionanxiety, sleeplessness and weight loss, according to the NIA.

There are medicines, including steroids, analgesics, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants, that may help with PHN. If shingles affects the eye, it can lead to serious complications including vision loss. For this reason, people should see their doctor right away if they notice blisters on their face, the NIA says.

Hearing and balance problems may also occur if shingles affects the ear. In rare cases, shingles can lead to pneumonia, brain inflammation called encephalitis, or even death, according to the CDC. There are vaccines that can reduce the risk of developing shingles and complications from the disease. A vaccine called Shingrix is recommended for healthy adults ages 50 and older in two doses, according to the CDC.

The second dose is given 6 months after the first dose. Shingrix is more than 90 percent effective at preventing shingles and PHN if given in two doses.Anyone who has had chickenpox in the past can develop shingles; even children can get shingles. Shingles cannot be passed from one person to another.

The virus that causes shingles, varicella zoster virus VZV can spread from a person with active shingles and cause chickenpox in someone who had never had chickenpox or received chickenpox vaccine. Most people who develop shingles have only one episode during their lifetime. However, you can get the disease more than once. A person with active shingles can spread the virus when the rash is in the blister-phase.

You are not infectious before the blisters appear. Once the rash crusts, you are no longer infectious. VZV from a person with shingles is less contagious than the virus from someone with chickenpox.

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The risk of spreading the virus is low if you cover the shingles rash. Skip directly to site content Skip directly to page options Skip directly to A-Z link. Shingles Herpes Zoster. Section Navigation. Minus Related Pages.

shingles causes

To prevent spreading VZV to others: Cover the rash. Avoid touching or scratching the rash. Wash your hands often. Avoid contact with the following people until your rash crusts: pregnant women who have never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine; premature or low birth weight infants; and people with weakened immune systems, such as people receiving immunosuppressive medications or undergoing chemotherapy, organ transplant recipients, and people with human immunodeficiency virus HIV infection.

shingles causes

Some people have a greater risk of getting shingles. This includes people who have medical conditions that keep their immune systems from working properly, such as certain cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, and human immunodeficiency virus HIV receive drugs that keep their immune systems from working properly, such as steroids and drugs that are given after organ transplantation. Related Links. Links with this icon indicate that you are leaving the CDC website.

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CDC is not responsible for Section compliance accessibility on other federal or private website. Cancel Continue.Why the virus re-emerges isn't entirely understood, but there are theories.

shingles causes

In fact, reduced immunity is considered the biggest risk factor for shingles. That's why it's important to understand what causes chickenpox, who's most at risk of coming down with it, and how to protect yourself if you're exposed. When the virus re-emerges, it typically reactivates in clusters of nerve cells in the peripheral nervous system called a sensory ganglion.

The ganglia most likely to host varicella are those in the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine. Varicella also often affects the trigeminal ganglion that provides sensation to the face. As its name suggests, this particular clump of nerves has three branches. The one associated with eye function, the ophthalmic branch, is 20 times more likely than the other two to be affected. The area with the particular nerve cells in which the virus reawakens is where the shingles symptoms—extreme pain, unsightly rash—will be concentrated.

Since the nervous system consists of tree-like branches of nerves, the blisters will follow the particular path of the nerves affected. Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions. What prompts the varicella virus to reactivate isn't entirely understood. The virus is a member of the same family of microbes that cause herpes infections, such as genital herpes and cold sores, which also tend to come and go, so it's not surprising that varicella would behave similarly.

Shingles: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Sometimes, however, it's unable to do that. What this means is that the varicella virus, which after causing the chickenpox rash in the skin had traveled to ganglia in the nervous system, becomes active again and heads back to the skin.

Since it travels along the nervous system, the rash stays on one side of the body and appears in the shape of a strip or band that aligns with the shape of the nerves below the skin.

Given that stress often is linked to any number of changes in health, including gastrointestinal problems, migraines, and eczema, this notion is not at all far-fetched. In fact, there is some evidence to support it. This suggests that perceiving an event as stressful, rather than the event itself, may be linked to increased rate of shingles. Some have taken this to mean that the overall perception of stress and the ability to cope with it, may add to the underlying factors that create the perfect storm for a shingles outbreak.

Since compromised immunity is the most common trigger for a latent varicella virus to become active, any factor associated with a weakened immune system can increase the risk of shingles. Note that many of these risk factors are as likely to apply to young people and children as they are to older people.

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Clin Infect Dis. Herpes Zoster Shingles [Updated May 6]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Shrestha M, Chen A. Modalities in managing postherpetic neuralgia. Korean J Pain.