Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Understanding Shingles Pain as a Symptom

By Rashel Dan

People suffering from shingles do not just get rashes. These people also suffer extreme shingles pain. What is shingles pain and how can it affect you?

Pain Before the Rashes

Contrary to popular belief, shingles is not signaled by just the outbreak of rashes. The first real sign of shingles is shingles pain. The reason why shingles pain occurs first before the rashes is that damage to the nerves happens first.

The virus which causes chicken pox usually gets stored in a nerve near the spinal cord once an individual recuperates from chicken pox. When the virus is reactivated, it can cause the nerve to become inflamed which is the initial cause of shingles pain. As the virus travels to the skin and becomes obvious as rashes, the pain may begin to worsen. The degree and constancy of the pain however varies from one individual to another.

Post Herpetic Neuralgia (PHN)

In some cases, the shingles pain may even persist long after the shingles rashes disappear. This is a condition known as post herpetic neuralgia. It is believed that the initial swelling of the nerve may result in the nerve defensively releasing substance P which is the known signal for pain. People with severe shingles may have severely damaged nerves, thus resulting in chronic shingles pain known as post herpetic neuralgia.

Age and PHN

It is an accepted fact that older people have higher chances of suffering from shingles than younger people. This is because older individuals have weaker immune systems due to the natural ageing of their bodies' systems. There is also a possibility that older people with shingles as well as those who have low stress tolerance have a greater chance of suffering from post herpetic neuralgia. The reasons for this are unclear but it is possible that PHN is also still linked with the body's level of immunity and capacity for self healing.

Treatment of PHN

There is really no clear cure for shingles pain that has progressed to PHN. It is possible though to ease this chronic shingles pain and possibly even prevent it. Some suggest that early shingles treatment can reduce the possibility of developing PHN.

Treatments for the condition would include pain relievers and anti viral medications. For those who already have PHN, doctors may prescribe a number of medications which include antidepressants, lidocaine patches, anticonvulsants and opioids. Further studies are needed to determine how exactly antidepressants work to prevent or ease shingles pain.

Radiation Therapy

PHN may be possibly relieved by radiation. A study conducted for more than two decades showed that people who were given small doses of radiation on the affected nerves experienced relief from PHN. Some participants even experienced more relief from radiation doses than from the usual shingles medications. It is believed that radiation can prevent both inflammation and the increase of the virus. The use of radiation however almost always carries some risks.

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