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Neuralgia is defined as severe, sharp jabs of pain, or a constant burning sensation. It is a condition of the nervous system, affecting a specific peripheral nerve (the nerves extending out from your spinal cord that control and innervate all other parts of your body) and the area of the body that nerve serves. Sometimes the cause of this type of nerve pain is unknown, but one known culprit is the herpes zoster virus, or shingles.
While typical neuralgia symptoms usually come and go, shingles pain can be quite debilitating and long lasting. Symptoms of shingles tend to be:
Shingles is just one form of a three-part classification of illnesses, which consists of shingles, postherpetic neuralgia, and chicken pox. All of these illnesses are the end result of the varicella-zoster virus, which finds its way into the body through the bloodstream. As most people have chickenpox during their young years, it is easy for this virus to remanifest itself, causing the onset of shingles. The virus may remain dormant in the body for years and is so small that it can house itself in a human nerve. When your immunity is down, which in most people can happen with aging, the virus emerges in the evolved form of shingles.
Shingles patients may experience many symptoms, specifically in the area of pain & discomfort. Patients report suffering from severe bouts of pain, which often will require narcotics for relief. Since this virus may affect mostly any region within the body, shingles is one of many causes of leg pain, buttocks pain, hip pain, and other bodily hurt.
If you think you may be experiencing shingles, consult a physician immediately to get the help you need.
Shingles patients are known to suffer from severe cases of pain, but this overwhelming symptom usually only tends to last for a reasonably short length of time. However, if this disease is not treated in a prompt and effective fashion, shingles symptoms may worsen to a much more critical level. In itself, the pain from shingles is devastating enough – adding insult to injury, especially under these circumstances, should be prevented at all costs.
When remaining untreated, a severe case of shingles can spread across the entire body, wreaking havoc upon everything it touches. In one case, the virus in shingles spread to the cornea, actually inducing a scar of permanent vision loss in this section of the eye. More commonly, shingles can evolve into a more serious form of the disease, called postherptic neuralgia. Postherptic neuralgia consists of extensive nerve pain which continues after skin problems heal, caused by inflammation that may occur in the nerves of the skin. If treated properly, the virus will not have enough time to penetrate the nerves, meaning that this evolved form will not occur.
If shingles is treated early, complications can be prevented before the virus reaches its lethal phase.
When people think of shingles, the most common symptom in mind is that of chicken pox – the ugly, nasty skin rash that is characteristic of both these dieseases. In truth, the rash involved in shingles is nothing compared to its other symptoms. Shingles poses a severe threat on the human immune system, which gives it the potential to harm practically anything in the body. In most cases, the shingles virus shoots down nerves in the body, causing numbness, itching, severe pain, and unlimited rashes.
The pain associated with symptoms of shingles is agonizing, and patients often report that this is the worst pain they have ever experienced. In one case, patients have even suggested that the pain from shingles may sometimes be worse than that of a heart of attack. In many cases, shingles patients will require narcotics to assuage the pain. Even more, the pain is tingling and nerve-wrecking, which prolongs the overwhelming discomfort.
Shingles is a terrible diseases, but the one comforting fact is that there are treatments for the symptoms. If you are experiencing symptoms of shingles, consult a clinician for the immediate and necessary medical attention.
In some cases, the symptoms of shingles are unresponsive to treatment and progress to become long-term problems. Postherpetic neuralgia is a potentially debilitating condition that affects the peripheral nervous system and occurs as a result of a shingles outbreak. It affects approximately 10-15% of those individuals who develop shingles. Symptoms are constant burning pain that is brought on by even the slightest contact or movement. The nerve irritation of postherpetic neuralgia can go on for months or years, long after other signs of shingles have disappeared.
Since this side effect of shingles is so painful and is also resistant to treatment, proper and early treatment of the original shingles outbreak is critical to lessen the chances of such as problem developing. 40-50% of people who experience postherpetic neuralgia don't respond to treatment for the condition. Even so, treatment options do exist and should be tried in an attempt to get relief.
Treatment options for this condition include:
The virus that causes the painful condition, shingles, is a crafty one. Consider this: once you've had chicken pox, you can't get them again. But if you're exposed to it a second time, instead of contracting the pox again the virus finds a hiding place in your body and lies dormant. Sometimes it will stay there, harmless, forever. But if it gets just the right trigger, such as extreme emotional stress or some type of immune deficiency, out it comes ... in all it's burning, blistery glory, this time as shingles.
At last count, the approximate number of shingles cases reported annually was around 500,000. And while that number is pretty high, it's all relative since once you've had chicken pox you can't actually catch shingles from someone else. That means if you're around anyone during their outbreak, you can't catch it from them directly. But since anyone who has had chicken pox is at risk for getting the herpes zoster virus and associated shingles symptoms, you CAN get shingles yourself if you have been re-exposed to the varicella virus.
While shingles is most common in people over 60 years of age, the virus is considered contagious to children as well as adults who have not had chicken pox before. Confusing, yes. But it makes sense if you keep in mind that whether or not you've had chicken pox is the key.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|