What is shingles?

Shingles is a painful disease caused by reactivation of the same virus that causes chickenpox, the varicella zoster virus. Shingles, also called herpes zoster, attacks nerve cells and causes severe nerve pain and a skin rash that appears over the affected nerve.

Shingles develops in people who have had chickenpox in the past. The chickenpox virus (varicella zoster virus) can remain in the body in an inactive form for years. In some people, the dormant virus is reactivated later in life by something that stresses the immune system, such as an illness.

Shingles is not spread through contact with a person who has shingles. However, a person who has never had chickenpox can contract chickenpox from a person with shingles through direct contact with the shingles rash.

Shingles is most common in older adults and the elderly who have had chickenpox at some point during their lives. Shingles is preventable 50% of the time through a shingles vaccination, and it has become less common since the introduction of the shingles vaccine. The pain of shingles generally resolves within three to five weeks. Most people who develop shingles will have only one episode, but in rare cases a person will have a second or third episode.

Complications of untreated shingles can be serious and include vision damage, meningitis, and postherpetic neuralgia (ongoing pain at the site). Seek prompt medical care if you, or someone you are with, have symptoms of shingles, including itching, tingling, or severe burning pain that precedes the appearance of a rash in the affected area. Prompt diagnosis and treatment of shingles reduces the risk of serious complications.


What are the symptoms of shingles?

Symptoms of shingles affect the nerves and the skin. Shingles can occur in almost any part of the body, but most often affects one side of the torso. Symptoms of shingles include:


What causes shingles?

Shingles is a disease caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, the varicella zoster virus. When a person has chickenpox, the varicella zoster virus can invade the nerve cells in the brain stem or spinal cord. The virus can then remain there in an inactive form for years until it is reactivated later in life and causes shingles. The varicella zoster virus can be reactivated by anything t... Read more about shinglescauses


How is shingles treated?

There is no cure for shingles, but antiviral medications can reduce the severity and duration of the disease. Antiviral medications can also reduce the risk of developing postherpetic neuralgia, which is a serious complication of shingles. Antiviral medications include:

  • Acyclovir

  • Famcyclovir

  • Valcyclovir Read more about shinglestreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 30, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

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